Breastfeeding And Asthma Risk – What Are The Facts?

Breastfeeding And Asthma Risk - What Are The Facts?

Breastfeeding is important for the health of mothers and their children, for many reasons.

For example, babies who are not breastfed have higher risks of infection, SIDS and obesity.

Mothers who don’t breastfeed have higher risks of breast and ovarian cancer.

Allergic diseases (including asthma, eczema, hayfever and food allergy) are common in childhood and in recent decades there has been a significant increased prevalence of these conditions.

Breastfeeding And Asthma Risk

Breastmilk is important for a child’s developing immune system.

In addition to passive immunity, breastmilk also actively stimulates a baby’s immune system.

The transfer of various common environmental and potential dietary allergens through breastmilk (in addition to a host of immune protective factors), likely helps breastfed babies develop tolerance to such allergens.

According to Verhasselt 2010:

Immune responses induced in early life to environmental and dietary antigens will be decisive for children and their adult response to these antigens, and they will condition development of immune-mediated diseases such as allergies and autoimmunity. Maternal influence on neonatal tolerance induction through breast-feeding is probably of great importance because of dietary and environmental antigen transfer through breast milk and the pleiotropic effects of breast-feeding on gut and immune system maturation. In addition, maternal history and maternal sensitization to common environmental and food antigens will probably affect antigen transfer to the breastfed child along with tolerance induction.’

Breastfeeding may reduce the risk of asthma in childhood.

And, recent research has found that breastfeeding may protect babies at high risk of developing asthma against respiratory symptoms (e.g. wheeze) early in life.

Breastfeeding May Help Reduce Respiratory Symptoms In Babies With High Risk Of Asthma

In this new study conducted in Switzerland, data was collected on occurrence and severity of respiratory symptoms, breastfeeding status and genotyping of 368 babies.

It was found that breastfed babies with genes associated with an increased asthma risk had a 27% decreased risk of developing respiratory symptoms. Whereas, babies who were not breastfed who had genes associated with an increased asthma risk showed a trend towards an increased risk of respiratory symptoms.

Lead researcher Dr Olga Gorlanova said: “As research in this field progresses, we are understanding more and more about the gene-environment interaction for the development of asthma. Our study sheds light on how this interaction can be modified by breastfeeding. This is the first time that we were able to show the effect of the 17q21 variants on respiratory symptoms during the 1st year of life, depending on breastfeeding status. Our results must be replicated in another cohort.”

With regards to allergic and infant feeding, Maureen Minchin, in her book Milk Matters, has written extensively about it. For anyone with any interest in this topic, this book will provide you with everything you’d want to know and more.

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Renee Kam IBCLC CONTRIBUTOR

Renee Kam is mother to Jessica and Lara, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a physiotherapist, author of 'The Newborn Baby Manual' and an Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor. In her spare time, Renee enjoys spending time with family and friends, horse riding, running and reading.


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