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Report promotes benefits of breast-feeding


Report promotes benefits of breast-feeding
Sunday, May 16, 2004

By Rob Stein The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Breast-feeding appears to reduce significantly the chances that babies will die in their first year of life, researchers have reported.

An analysis of a nationally representative sample of about 9,000 U.S. babies found that breast-feeding decreased the risk of dying from any cause by about 20 percent, the researchers reported.

Based on the findings, the researchers estimated that about 720 infant deaths would be prevented annually if all American women breast-fed their babies for the first year, the researchers said.

“There’s already a lot of reasons for women to breast-feed their babies,” said WalterRogan, an epidemiologist at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, N.C. “This is one more.”

Although previous studies have found that breast-feeding provides a variety of benefits for babies, including apparently reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the study is the first to demonstrate an overall reduction in mortality among U.S. children, Rogan and other experts said.

The reason breast-feeding would reduce the overall risk of death remains unclear, though research has shown that in addition to reducing the risk of SIDS, breast-feeding boosts a baby’s immune system, which protects against infections.

There is also a possibility that women who breast-feed their babies simply tend to spend more time near their children, protecting them from fatal accidents, Rogan said.

“It may be something as simple as physical proximity. Breast-fed kids are closer to mom,” said Rogan, whose findings were published in this month’s issue of Pediatrics and were presented at the 2004 Academic Pediatrics Societies meeting in San Francisco.

Whatever the explanation, the findings provide yet another reason to encourage more women to breast-feed, experts said. Only about 15 percent of U.S. women breast-feed their babies for their entire first year of life.

“I hope it will encourage more physicians and health care professionals to help women make an informed decision about breast-feeding,” said Ruth A. Lawrence, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine.

Cathy Spong, chief of the pregnancy and perinatology branch at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, called the findings “another piece of the puzzle” in trying to sort out the health benefits of breast-feeding.

For the study, Rogan and a colleague compared a national representative sample of 1,204 infants who died between 28 days and one year after birth in 1988 with 7,740 children who were still alive.

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