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Researchers find that mortality in the first year was 21 per cent lower than in babies who were formula fed



The Globe and Mail

Thursday, May 6, 2004 - Page A21

Breast-fed babies are significantly less likely to die in the first year of life than those who are formula-fed, even in prosperous countries such as the U.S. and Canada, according to a new study.

Researchers in the U.S. found that breast-fed babies were less likely to die of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), infectious diseases and even injuries. Overall, their mortality was about 21 per cent lower, but the longer a newborn breast-fed, the lower the child's risk of dying prematurely.

The research team estimated that, if all newborn babies were breast-fed, 720 children under the age of one would die each year in the U.S. That translates into about 72 fewer deaths in Canada, a substantial number in the under-one age group.

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

The study, published in the medical journal Pediatrics, is one of the first to look at the link between breast-feeding and infant mortality in a developed country.

For Donna Isenor, a Toronto mother of three young children, the research provides confirmation that she is doing the right thing.?"Science has put a rubber stamp on my instincts as a mom," she said yesterday in an interview.

The 42-year-old woman said she has been breast-feeding, almost continually, for the past six years, and doesn't regret it for an instant.?"Breast-feeding is the best thing I can do for my kids. They're healthy, they're happy, and we have a loving, tender relationship," Ms. Isenor said. Her oldest, five-year-old Caleb, breast-fed for 18 months; the middle child, three-year-old Mitchell, weaned himself at 28 months; and baby Maranatha, 11 months, "will keep breast-feeding until she's good and ready to stop."

Dr. Rogan said it is unclear why breast-feeding reduces the overall risk of death, but it is likely a combination of breast milk boosting the baby's immune system and the fact that breast-feeding mothers spend more time with their babies.

The study showed that breast-fed babies were 41 per cent less likely to die of injuries than bottle-fed babies. They were also 24 per cent less likely to die of infections, and 16 per cent less likely to die of SIDS, the most common cause of death in the under-one age group.

The study looked at 1,204 babies who died and compared them to a group of 7,740 children between the ages of one month and one year. Children under the age of one month were excluded to eliminate those with severe birth defects and tumours, which often preclude them from breast-feeding.

In the U.S., about 70 per cent of women are breast-feeding their babies when they leave hospital, and that falls to less than 15 per cent by the baby's first birthday. In Canada, a slightly higher number of women breast-feed initially but it is unclear how long they continue because there is little follow-up research.

According to the World Health Organization, babies should breast-feed exclusively until the age of six months, and continue to be breast-fed to age two for optimal health.

Worldwide, more than 1.5 million children die each year because they are not breast-fed. In developing countries, infants fed formula have a four- to 16-fold increased risk of dying of diarrheal disease compared to exclusively breast-fed infants.

The Article and Study: Breastfeeding and the Risk of Postneonatal Death in the United States PEDIATRICS Vol. 113 No. 5 May 2004, pp. e435-e439?

Abstract: https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/113/5/e435

For the full article:https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/113/5/e435