Allergy protection not a breastfeeding bonus?

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: April 7th, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

There are many benefits to breastfeeding a baby. Among other things, it boosts the immune system and encourages a healthy weight. But new research shows protecting against developing allergies or asthma is not one of breastfeeding’s bonuses.

The study, led by McGill University researchers and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, involved nearly fourteen-thousand children who were selected at birth from thirty-one maternity hospitals in Belarus. The former Soviet republic was chosen because it has not yet adopted many baby friendly innovations common in most Western countries.

Hospitals and clinics in the experimental group were trained to teach better breastfeeding techniques and were told to encourage mothers to breastfeed as long and as exclusively as possible. Meanwhile, similar facilities in a control group were allowed to continue with current practices.

The researchers checked in on the children when they were six-and-a-half years old. The results? Breastfeeding didn’t reduce the risk of asthma, hayfever or eczema, despite large differences in the duration of breastfeeding. In fact, the results even suggested an increased risk of positive allergy skin tests.

So what’s a new mother to do? Researchers said that despite the inability to ward off asthma or allergy, breastfeeding yielded other positive results, and they urged women to continue the practice. Breastfed babies had fewer gastrointestinal infections in the first year of life. And studies have shown that human milk contains just the right recipe of fatty acids, lactose, water and amino acids for optimal digestion, brain development and growth.