Breast-feeding has a long list of potential benefits. Now some researchers say there’s evidence of one more -- protection against sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, a form of unexpected death that kills more than 2,000 infants each year in the U.S.
Such a link had been suspected, based on some studies, but to get a better idea of the true association, an international team of researchers analyzed an array of studies on breast-feeding and SIDS, crunching the numbers and employing an array of statistical tools.
They calculated that infants who were breast-fed, for any length of time, had 60% lower risk of SIDS than those who were not breast-fed at all. Infants who were fed only breast milk — no formula — for any period of time had a 73% lower risk of sudden death. The findings were published online Monday in Pediatrics.
The numbers don’t actually show a cause and effect. But the researchers themselves seem fairly confident of their take-home message. They wrote in their conclusion: “Breastfeeding to any extent and of any duration is protective against SIDS. The protective effect is stronger for exclusive breastfeeding.”
The authors theorize that breast-feeding may reduce the likelihood of SIDS because it protects against minor infections, as this Reuters article explains. They also suggest that breast-fed babies are more easily woken up.
But the analysis does have shortcomings. As the authors note:
“A limitation identified by this meta-analysis was the small number of studies that presented data on breastfeeding duration, and when presented, there were different ways in which duration was defined, which made it difficult to pool the results.”
This analysis is unlikely to be the final word on the risk factors of SIDS and the merits of breast-feeding.
PubMed Health explains the nature of the condition:
“The cause of SIDS is unknown, although there are several theories. Many doctors and researchers now believe that SIDS is not a single condition that is always caused by the same medical problems, but infant death caused by several different factors.”
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