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Breastfeeding may not help prevent eczema

Thursday August 23rd, 2011

New research suggests that extended breastfeeding may not lead to a reduced risk of a child developing the allergic skin problem eczema.

It has long been thought that breastfeeding for four months or longer protects against childhood eczema. But new findings from a study based at Nottingham University, King's College London, UK, and the University of Ulm, Germany, cast doubt on this belief.

The researchers used figures from 51,119 children aged eight to 12, from 21 countries. Parents were given questionnaires and the children had skin tests for eczema and allergies.

Contrary to earlier studies, the babies who were exclusively breastfed for four months or longer were just as likely to develop eczema as babies who were weaned.

Dr Carsten Flohr said: "Although there was a small protective effect of breastfeeding on severe eczema in affluent countries, we found no evidence that exclusive breastfeeding for four months or longer protects against eczema in either developed or developing nations."

Professor Hywel Williams said: "There is no doubt that breast is best in terms of prevention of infections and parental bonding, but mothers who cannot breastfeed should not feel guilty if their child develops eczema.

"The evidence that prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding protects against eczema is not convincing."

The UK Department of Health currently recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months as does the World Health Organisation. The researchers say this could now be reviewed. It is published in the British Journal of Dermatology.

Nina Goad of the British Association of Dermatologists commented: "The size of this study means that its findings are very significant, although the authors recognise that further studies are required."

Williams, H. et al. British Journal of Dermatology, published online August 24, 2011.

Tags: Allergies & Asthma | Child Health | Childbirth and Pregnancy | Dermatology | Europe | UK News | Women’s Health & Gynaecology

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