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More Proof That Breast-feeding Is Best?

We know that breast-feeding is the healthiest food choice for infants.  A recent study of more than 16,000 European mothers published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (2001) offers some of the strongest evidence yet that breast-fed babies are healthier. In this study, babies whose mothers participated in an intensive breast-feeding program had significantly less intestinal infections and eczema. Other studies have linked breast-feeding with similar benefits, in addition to reductions in earaches, colds and asthma. But most of those studies were retrospective (after the fact) analyses; this one was prospective.

This study compared women who breast-fed a lot with women who breast-fed but switched to bottle-feeding early on. Participants gave birth at 31 hospitals or clinics in the Eastern European Republic of Belarus. Half of the hospitals (selected at random) implemented an intensive breast-feeding instruction and counseling program. The other hospitals served as a control group, which provided the usual obstetric care and basic nursing information and instruction only. By 12 months, nearly 20 percent of the infants who were part of the breast-feeding program were still nursing, while 11.4 percent of the control group was. About 9 percent of the infants who had been in the breast-feeding program had at least one intestinal infection in the first year, compared with about 13 percent of the control group. About 3 percent of the breast-fed infants developed atopic eczema, a scaly, allergy-associated skin irritation, compared with 6 percent of the other babies.

While this study confirms that breast-feeding is healthier for the majority of children, it should not be interpreted to suggest that mothers must breast feed their children for 12 months or more. Individual women must make the best nutritional choices for their individual children within the context of other circumstances in their lives.

For more information on the benefits of breast-feeding, read "Are there benefits to breastfeeding, other than psychological ones?" at www.drgreene.com.

Created: 4/26/2001  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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