'Any' breastfeeding reduces illnesses


A NEW IRISH study confirms international findings that breastfed babies have better health outcomes and less illness compared with formula fed babies.

Infants who were provided with “any” breast milk up to six weeks after birth were significantly less likely to have any infection or illness that necessitated being prescribed medication, a visit to a general practitioner or paediatrician and/or hospitalisation.

The research, carried out by Dr Roslyn Tarrant, a clinical paediatric and research dietitian at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, followed up a sample of 450 mothers and their babies recruited from the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital.

The study, which is published in the March issue of Irish Medical Journal, is the first Irish study to show the positive effects of early breastfeeding on infant health. Historically, Irish breastfeeding rates have been, and currently remain, among the lowest worldwide, the study authors point out.

Almost half of the sample of infants were formula fed from birth. Although breastfeeding was initiated by 228 mothers, only 162 mothers were providing “any” breast milk to their infants for more than two weeks postpartum.

Notably, the study found that infants born to Irish, compared with non-Irish national, mothers were significantly more likely to have had a reported illness during the first six weeks.

The significantly lower rate of breastfeeding initiation, as well as “any” and exclusive breastfeeding in the Irish, compared with the non-Irish national mothers throughout the first six weeks may be one possible explanation for this infant health disparity.

“While exclusive breastfeeding up to six months, as recommended by the WHO, is a desirable goal, mothers should be informed that providing “any” breast milk to their infants for short durations, even to three months, offers a clear advantage to their infants by reducing, in particular, gastro-intestinal and respiratory infection,” the authors state.

They point out that this is of clinical importance given that chest/respiratory infection is one of the most frequently reported adverse clinical outcomes among infants in Ireland.