Article Text

HEALTHCARE BENEFITS OF BREASTFEEDING
  1. D Turck1
  1. 1Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, Department of Pediatrics, Jeanne de Flandre Children's Hospital and Lille University Faculty of Medicine, Lille, France

Abstract

Since the maternal decision to breastfeed is associated with numerous health-related factors, it is difficult to draw firm conclusions on the causality between breastfeeding and health benefits. Nevertheless, it is estimated that ∼1.5 million deaths could be prevented by increased levels of breastfeeding. In industrialised countries, breastfeeding is associated with a demonstrable impact on infant morbidity but not on infant mortality.

Collectively, the available data indicate an association of breastfeeding with a reduced risk of infectious diarrhoea and acute otitis media and a possible protection against respiratory infections.

Although there are indications for effects on later blood pressure (BP) (mean difference for systolic BP −1.21 mm Hg (95% CI −1.72 to −0.70) and for diastolic BP −0.49 mm Hg (95% CI −0.87 to −0.11) and on total cholesterolaemia (mean difference −0.18 mmol/l (95% CI 0.06 to 0.30 mmol/l)), there is no evidence that breastfeeding has an effect on cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Breastfeeding has the potential to contribute to a reduction of later obesity development in childhood and adolescence (∼20–25%).

A protective effect of breastfeeding on the occurrence of diabetes type 1 later in life remains controversial. Breastfeeding may protect against coeliac disease but may only delay the onset of symptoms. The evidence for a protection of breastfeeding against malignant disease is weak.

Breastfeeding may be associated with a small advantage in cognitive development (∼+3–5 points) persisting into adulthood, which may not be of major importance for an individual but could provide a significant advantage on a population basis.

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