Breastfeeding For at Least 2 Months Reduces the Risk of SIDS

breastfeeding mom
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By now, most parents are well acquainted with the many extensive benefits of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding has positive effects from benefits to the mother as well as to the infant, such as helping with temperature regulation and bonding to reducing allergies and improving digestion.

A 2017 study has linked breastfeeding to yet another benefit that may be of interest to a lot of parents and caregivers.

An October 2017 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has linked breastfeeding to a significant reduction in the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The study was an extensive one, looking at a total of 2267 SIDS cases and 6837 control infants, so the results of the study are significant.

What the Study Found

Previous extensive studies by the AAP have concluded that breastfeeding is associated with a lowered risk of SIDS in babies. The studies went as far back as 1966 and continued all the way through 2010, and typically showed the same thing: breastfeeding is linked to a lower rate of SIDS in babies. But what researchers did not know is how exactly that risk was lowered. Did it matter if a mother breastfed for only a few months? Did it have to be six months? What about bottle feeding? With this study, researchers hoped to provide some answers into exactly how long a mom needs to breastfeed in order to reduce your baby's risk of SIDS.

And the answer? Women who breastfed for at least two months significantly and drastically reduced their babies' risk of SIDS. What's even more surprising is that the researchers also found that the infants did not have to be exclusively breastfed during that time frame. Mothers supplementing with formula or providing pumped breast milk through a bottle still helped reduce their babies' risk of SIDS, as long as they were breastfeeding in some capacity for at least two months.

Essentially, the more and longer a mother breastfed, the greater the risk of SIDS went down, but researchers were trying to figure out that "magic" number a woman can breastfeed to be the most beneficial to her infant. Breastfeeding can be a challenge for many women, especially after they return back to work, so the study was aimed at finding a length of time that breastfeeding might be encouraged in mothers in a more realistic way, and how that time can help their babies.

If a woman knows she won't be able to breastfeed once she goes back to work, for example, she might decide to skip breastfeeding all together. This study might help encourage mothers with new information that could change the way they think about breastfeeding.

Why the Study Is Important

The study comes out of the area that doctors and medical experts are hoping to address: encouraging mothers and caregivers that even some breastfeeding can be incredibly beneficial. Many mothers struggle with breastfeeding or may not have time, due to work or other obligations to commit to full-time breastfeeding or pumping. They may be discouraged that they are not able to produce enough milk to feed their babies full-time, but this new study might help to change the way we view breastfeeding.

Because even some breastfeeding is better than none at all.

Of course, breastfeeding is not possible without a lot of support for the nursing mother. For a mother to make breastfeeding work, even for the first two months of life, it's important to recognize all the systems that must be in place for that to happen. It's helpful, for example, for mothers to have some kind of maternity leave available to them. Many mothers, unfortunately, still don't have access to paid or even unpaid maternity leave and are forced to return to work sooner than they might like. A lack of maternity leave, breastfeeding support at places of employment, and other factors from mastitis to not being able to afford breastfeeding supplies can all affect whether or not a woman initiates breastfeeding.

A study like this, which demonstrates how important breastfeeding is especially in the first two months of life, might help change the tide for breastfeeding in our culture. The United States unfortunately still has one of the highest rates of SIDS deaths of any developed country in the world, and it also has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates. SIDS rates are also disproportionately higher in certain ethnic groups, such as non-Hispanic black and American Indian/Alaskan infants. And although we can't say for sure what role breastfeeding plays in the rate of SIDS, the rate of breastfeeding is also significantly lower among non-Hispanic black infants and mothers as well.

As more medical professionals, parents, and caregivers are aware of the benefits of breastfeeding, especially early in a baby's life, we can hopefully create a wider support network, including maternity leave and breastfeeding resources at work, that will make it possible for more mothers to breastfeed for as long as they wish.

In October of 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that breastfeeding rates across the US are actually on the rise. The CDC noted that the latest statistics show that in 2014, 83 percent of mothers initiated breastfeeding with their infants as compared to 73 percent in babies born in 2004. And more families are maintaining breastfeeding for longer periods of time as well. Over half of all US babies born in 2014 were breastfed for at least 6 months. And while those numbers are promising, it's important to note that racial and economic disparities still exist among breastfed infants.

A Word From Verywell

If you are a mom preparing to welcome a new baby or a mother currently breastfeeding, you can use this study to help guide your decisions about breastfeeding. If you know breastfeeding is not a good fit for you and your family, that's absolutely a valid choice that only you can know. Formula is a safe and healthy option for many families and you should never feel pressured to do anything but what is right for you and your baby.

But if you've been considering breastfeeding or are unsure if there are any benefits to breastfeeding, even for a short amount of time, you should consider the information in this study. Even if you don't plan to exclusively breastfeed or to continue breastfeeding past two months, it might be an option to breastfeed your baby in some capacity for at least two months. As this study has found, the risk of SIDS reduces greatly even with two months of breastfeeding in any form. And then, if breastfeeding is not working for you after the two months, your baby can switch to formula full-time for future feedings.

During the first two months of life, however, you could pump your milk and feed your baby with a bottle, you could feed your baby solely at the breast, or you could nurse your baby, supplement with formula, and have your partner take over some feedings with a pumped bottle—there are many different choices that you can make work for you and your family. 

The important thing is for you, as an expecting parent or new parent, to be empowered with the information you need to make the best decision for your entire family.

Sources:

Anstey EH, Chen J, Elam-Evans LD, Perrine CG. Racial and Geographic Differences in Breastfeeding — United States, 2011–2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2017;66:723–727. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6627a3.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, October). U.S> Breastfeeding rates are up! Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/resources/us-breastfeeding-rates.html

John M.D. Thompson, Kawai Tanabe, Rachel Y. Moon, Edwin. A. Mitchell, ClionaMcGarvey, David Tappin, Peter S. Blair, Fern R. Hauck. (2017, Nov.) Duration of Breastfeeding and Risk of SIDS: An Individual Participant Data Meta-analysis. Pediatrics, 140 (5) e20171324; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2017-1324

National Center for Education in Maternal and Child Health. (2017) SIDS Statistics. Georgetown University. Retrieved from https://www.ncemch.org/suid-sids/statistics/

World Health Organization. (2017). Exclusive breastfeeding under 6 months: Data by country. Retrieved from http://apps.who.int/gho/data/view.main.NUT1730 

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