CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the leading cause of infant death between the ages of one month and one year. A new international study offers hope for those parents who wonder whether there is something they can do to circumvent this rare, but catastrophic, event. It turns out breastfeeding can play a significant protective role for babies.
Researchers at the University of Virginia found that breastfeeding for just two months reduces SIDS cases by nearly half. The good news is that mothers do not have to be limited to breastfeeding only for their babies to receive the health perks.
“These results are very powerful! Our study found that babies who are breastfed for at least two months have a significant reduction in their risk of dying from SIDS,” says researcher Kawai Tanabe of the university’s school of medicine in a media release. “Breastfeeding is beneficial for so many reasons, and this is really an important one.”
Other studies have shown a correlation between breastfeeding and reduced SIDS cases, but this study is the first to establish how long mothers need to breastfeed their babies to give them the protection it offers.
For the study, researchers brought together information from eight major international studies that included 2,259 SIDS cases and 6,894 control infants who did not die of SIDS. The sample was extensive and involved cases from different countries and cultures. Researchers made adjustments for variables that could impact results and determined that the cut-off time for breastfeeding benefits is at two months. Breastfeeding for less than two months did not provide the extra protection. Researchers saw consistent results across the sample group that demonstrated strong evidence for the reliability of their findings.
“Breastfeeding for just two months reduces the risk of SIDS by almost half, and the longer babies are breastfed, the greater the protection,” says Fern Hauck of the university. “The other important finding from our study is that any amount of breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS — in other words, both partial and exclusive breastfeeding appear to provide the same benefit.”
Researchers point out that, although their study explains the amount of time needed to achieve breastfeeding benefits, it does not explain how breastfeeding protects babies against SIDS. They say it might involve such factors as boosts to the immune system and/or changes in infant sleep patterns related to breastfeeding.
Based on their results, researchers are urging higher rates of breastfeeding. They say that recent data indicate a quarter of U.S. babies are never breastfed. They report that it is also a global effort. One goal of the World Health Organization is for more than half of all babies worldwide to be entirely breastfed for a minimum of six months by the year 2025.
“It’s great for mothers to know that breastfeeding for at least two months provides such a strong protective effect against SIDS,” says Rachel Moon of the university. “We strongly support international and national efforts to promote breastfeeding.”
The research was published in the Nov. 2017 edition of the scientific journal Pediatrics.