Sept. 27, 2010 -- Exclusively breastfed babies have fewer and less severe infections as infants regardless of the standard of health care or vaccinations they receive, according to a new study. But partially breastfed babies may not enjoy these protective effects.
"Exclusive breastfeeding helps protect infants against common infections and lessens the frequency and severity of infectious episodes not only in developing countries but also in communities with adequate vaccination coverage and healthcare standards," writes researcher Fani Ladomenou, of the University of Crete in Heraklion, Greece, in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.
Although several studies have shown breastfeeding reduces the risk of a number of common childhood infections, researchers say it has not been clear whether other factors, such as standard of health care or immunization, play a role.
In the study, researchers followed 926 infants born in 2004 in Crete, Greece, and tracked any infections they had in the first year of life. All of the infants had access to a high level of health care and received routine vaccinations.
Researchers found almost two-thirds of the mothers were breastfeeding at one month and just under 17% were breastfeeding at six months. Only one in 10 was exclusively breastfeeding at six months.
The results showed the longer the infants were exclusively breastfed, the lower the rate of infection, consultations with a doctor regarding the infant's health, and admissions to a hospital for treatment of an infection were, even after adjusting for other potential risk factors.
The 91 infants who were exclusively breastfed for six months had significantly fewer ear infections, acute respiratory infections, and fewer episodes of thrush than the babies who were partially breastfed or not breastfed.
Researchers say partial breastfeeding did not have the same protective effect against infection and was not linked to lower rates of infection or hospitalization due to infection.