Encouraging new mothers to stick with breast-feeding may halve the already small risk that infants will develop eczema when they hit their teens, new research suggests.
And while the study also found no impact on teenage asthma risk, at least one U.S. pediatrician said other studies have supported the role of breast-feeding in potentially cutting a child’s risk of developing allergies or asthma.
The new findings stem from an ongoing investigation tracking some of the protective benefits of breast-feeding among infants reared in the eastern European country of Belarus.
The study didn’t compare mothers who did not breast-feed with those who did, and it didn’t prove a cause-and-effect link between prolonged breast-feeding and eczema or asthma risk.
Rather, researchers looked at how infants fared down the road when mothers participated in a program that encouraged breast-feeding for as long as possible, compared with otherwise healthy infants reared by mothers not enrolled in such a program.
The result: 0.7 percent of infants whose moms did not receive breast-feeding support ended up developing eczema when they were 16, compared with just 0.3 percent of those whose moms had received breast-feeding support.
However, the theory that breast-feeding might help to curb asthma risk was not supported by the new study findings.
“There is no good evidence from other studies that breast-feeding protects against asthma, so we were not surprised from that point of view,” said study author Dr. Carsten Flohr.
Asked if the results likely end speculation on the asthma front, Flohr said, “You can always do more studies. But we are very unlikely to have another [large study], and it would have to be even bigger to find a very small protective effect, if there is one.”