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Breastfed Infants Less Likely to Die

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May 3, 2004 -- Breastfed infants are less likely to die in the first year of life, new research shows.

"If more U.S. mothers can be persuaded to breastfeed ... then the United States might improve its poor ranking among industrialized countries for [infant] deaths," writes lead researcher Aimin Chen, MD, PhD, an epidemiologist with the National Institute of Environmental Health Services in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Her study -- a nationwide survey of 18,593 women -- appears in the current issue of Pediatrics.

Studies have shown that breastfeeding lowers deaths from preventable causes like infections, trauma, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Further investigation of this protective effect is important, also, to offset concerns about the infant's possible exposure to HIV or chemical carcinogens through breast milk, writes Chen.

Chen took her data from surveys sent to 9,953 women whose babies were born alive, 3,309 whose babies were stillborn or died shortly after premature birth, and 5,332 whose babies died within their first year.

The surveys asked about the mother's prenatal care, the infant's health, whether the infant was breastfed, and how long breastfeeding lasted. Researchers also looked at the infants' death certificates. None of the deaths was due to a congenital defect or cancer.

They found that:

  • Breastfed babies were nearly 20% less likely to die in infancy.
  • The longer babies were breastfed, the lower the risk of infant death.

  • Both black and white infants had the same protection from breastfeeding.

"Breastfed children have a decreased risk of [death in infancy] in the United States," writes Chen.

Breastfeeding may protect infants from infections, but how it affects SIDS is not yet understood, she writes.

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