Babies who are breastfed are less likely to die of sudden infant death syndrome.
While the findings can't prove that breastfeeding causes the lower risk of SIDS
, the authors write in Pediatrics that other explanations seem unlikely.
"Breastfeeding is the best method of feeding infants," said Dr. Fern Hauck, the study's lead author.
SIDS, also known as "crib death
," is defined as a sudden and unexplained death - usually during sleep in a baby less than one year old. It's most common in infants between two and four months old, according to the National Institutes of Health, and kills about 2,500 infants in the U.S. each year.
Researchers aren't sure what causes SIDS, but they known that African American and male babies are more likely to die from SIDS, and that parents can cut down on their baby's risk by making sure infants sleep on their backs and don't get too hot.
One theory for the cause of SIDS, said Hauck, is that it happens in babies sleeping with their faces down or heads covered who don't turn their heads or cry like most babies would, and slowly suffocate.
Breastfeeding could be linked to SIDS because it protects infants against minor infections that have also been shown to make sudden death more likely. The study
Hauck and her colleagues combined data from 18 studies that asked mothers of infants who had or hadn't died of SIDS about whether they breastfed the infants.
Combining the results, the researchers found that the rate of SIDS was 60% lower among infants who had any amount of breastfeeding compared to those who didn't breastfeed, and more than 70% lower in infants that been breastfed exclusively
- without any formula - for any period of time.
That led the authors to conclude that any breastfeeding helps protect a baby against sudden death.
They note, however, that more research is needed to see if the duration of breastfeeding affects the risk of SIDS - specifically, if babies who are breastfed for longer get more protection that those who are only breastfed for a short time after birth.
The analysis doesn't definitively show that there's a cause and effect relationship between breastfeeding and SIDS risk, but Hauck said she is "fairly confident" that's the case.Do you think breastfeeding is beneficial to a baby's health?