Over 3,000 babies die in the United States each year due to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). There are many recommendations aimed at reducing the risk of SIDS, with breastfeeding being one of them. Until now, no studies thus far have addressed the ideal duration of breastfeeding related to its protective nature against SIDS.
A new meta-analysis published this month in the journal Pediatrics found that breastfeeding for a minimum of two months reduced the risk of SIDS by half. Additionally, the longer a baby was breastfed, the more protective the effect was.
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Researchers examined data of over 9,000 babies from eight international studies. Of these babies, 2,267 died from SIDS, and 6,837 infants were not impacted by sudden infant death.
Newborns who were breastfed for less than two months, even exclusively, did not see any protective measures against SIDS. However, babies who were breastfed for 2-4 months showed a 40% decrease in SIDS compared to those who were not breastfed. Further, those who were breastfed for 4-6 months had a 60% lower risk of SIDS.
It was unclear why exclusive breastfeeding did not reduce the risk of SIDS more significantly, as previous studies suggest that exclusive breastfeeding does offer additional protection. However, the fact that breastmilk is protective even in lesser amounts is welcomed news for mothers who may be unable to breastfeed exclusively.
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"Breastfeeding for just two months reduces the risk of SIDS by almost half, and the longer babies are breastfed, the greater the protection," UVA researcher Dr. Fern Hauck said in a press release. "The other important finding from our study is that any amount of breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS - in other words, both partial and exclusive breastfeeding appear to provide the same benefit."
The reasons why breastfeeding is protective against SIDS was not explored in this review. However, researchers suggest that the immune boosting properties of milk and the sleeping patterns of breastfed newborns may provide protection.
Researchers say that the findings are a call to action to increase breastfeeding rates worldwide.