Exclusively breastfeeding children for the first three months of their lives may significantly lower their risk of developing atopic dermatitis (AD) at six years old, compared with children who were not breastfed or who were breastfed for a shorter period, according to research presented at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology 2019 Annual Meeting and published online ahead of print at The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (Feb. 2019; 143(2):AB124).
Infants who are breastfed also have reduced risk for developing other chronic conditions such as asthma and obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S.
“The evidence that being exclusively breastfed protects children from developing eczema later in life remains mixed,” said lead study author Katherine M. Balas, clinical research assistant at Children’s National Health System in Washington in a press release. “Our research team is trying to help fill that data gap.”
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Researchers collected data from the Infant Feeding Practices Study II, a longitudinal study co-led by the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from 2005 to 2007. Data was also analyzed from the agencies’ 2012 follow-up examination of that study cohort. First, investigators of this study tracked the diets of about 2,000 pregnant women from their third trimester and examined feeding practices through their babies’ first year of life. Their follow-up inquiry looked at the health, development, and dietary patterns for 1,520 of these children at six years of age.
Findings showed that an estimated 300 of the children had been diagnosed with eczema at some point in their lives, and 58.5% of the 6-year-olds had eczema at the time of the CDC/FDA year six follow-up. Furthermore, children with higher socioeconomic status or a family history of food allergies had increased odds of being diagnosed with AD.
“Children who were exclusively breastfed for three months or longer were significantly less likely to have continued eczema at age 6, compared with peers who were never breastfed or who were breastfed for less than three months,” said Balas in a press release. “While exclusive breastfeeding may not prevent kids from getting eczema, it may protect them from experiencing extended flare-ups.”
Balas and her colleagues conclude that although it may not prevent the onset of disease, breastfeeding may be an effective way of minimizing the chronicity of eczema.