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Shorter Hospital Stays, Milder Illness for Breastfed Babies

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A study of 125 infants and young children recently published in the journal Global Pediatric Health found that babies who were breastfed for longer than 6 months had shorter hospital stays and milder illness from lower respiratory tract infections (LRTIs) than babies who were not.

CRP measures and other considerations

The study found that, among the infants and children aged 1 month to 24 months, those who were breastfed for longer than 6 months recovered from LRTIs after experiencing milder infections, as measured by lower C-reactive protein (CRP) levels and shorter periods of hospitalization.

The researchers also considered history of premature birth in the subjects, and found the durations of hospitalization in the groups with and without a history of prematurity were not statistically different.

First study with these unique endpoints

Although breastfeeding is well known to be among the protective factors for respiratory infections in infants, the authors wrote, this was the first study to measure the effect of breastfeeding on disease prognosis or duration of hospitalization.  They noted that prior reviews from developed countries examining respiratory disease and its association with preterm births and breastfeeding have used illness episodes as their end point.

The researchers conducted the prospective study using several pre-defined parameters: history of preterm birth; duration of breastfeeding; laboratory findings such as blood culture and CRP; rate and duration of hospitalization; and history of wheezing attacks or atopy prior to hospitalization.

For the purposes of this study, the duration of stay in the hospital was categorized as short (<5 days), moderate (5-10 days), and long (>10 days).

Nine of the 125 cases (7.2%) had premature birth history.  Between the groups with and without history of prematurity, there was no statistical difference in regard to the rate of general findings for infection, positive blood culture for bacteria, positive viral serology, and radiological findings.

The duration of hospitalization was also compared between the groups with and without history of premature birth.  There was not any statistically significant difference between these two groups, according to the researchers.

The study authors also noted that breastfeeding was not found to reduce the frequency or improve the symptoms of wheezing episodes or incidence of atopy.

Breastfeeding protection the world over

The Turkey-based researchers noted that previous studies performed in developing countries have reported that breastfeeding for long periods provides protection against infectious diseases in children.

“On the other hand,” they wrote, “major differences have been observed between the results of similar studies on the same matter performed in developed countries.”

“Breastmilk has been shown to include several protective factors such as immunoglobulins, lactoferrin, and lymphocytes,” they wrote, which have been associated with potential reductions in infant mortality in developed countries.

Find the full study “Effect of Breastfeeding and Preterm Births on the Severity of Lower Respiratory Tract Infections and Associated Risk of Hospitalization in Infants and Toddlers” for no charge at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9210102/

Also, be sure to read about the newly updated breastfeeding guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics here.

The contents of this feature are not provided or reviewed by NPWH.

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