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Vincent Iannelli, M.D.

Breastfeeding Reduces the Risk of SIDS

By June 13, 2011

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The Healthy People 2020 goals for breastfeeding include:

  • increasing the rate of babies who start breastfeeding to over 80%
  • decreasing the number of babies who get formula supplements within their first few days of life to just 14%
  • increasing the number of infants breastfeeding exclusively at 3 months to 46%
  • increasing the number of infants breastfeeding at 6 months to 60%
  • increasing the number of infants breastfeeding exclusively at 6 months to 25%
  • increasing the number of infants breastfeeding at 12 months to 34%

Of course, we have a ways to go, even with all that is known about the benefits of breastfeeding. At last count, just over 24% of breastfeeding babies got formula supplements within 2 days of life and only about 22% of infants are still breastfeeding at 12 months.

A new review article that will be published in the July issue of Pediatrics, "Breastfeeding and Reduced Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: A Meta-analysis," may help encourage more moms to breastfeed so we can meet those goals. The review article concluded that "Breastfeeding is protective against SIDS, and this effect is stronger when breastfeeding is exclusive."

That is a welcome change to the last AAP policy statement about SIDS which stated that "Although breastfeeding is beneficial and should be promoted for many reasons, the task force believes that the evidence is insufficient to recommend breastfeeding as a strategy to reduce SIDS." Of course, that policy statement came out in 2005 and the new Pediatrics review article was able to look at some new data. Even back then, the AAP policy statement found a "protective effect of breastfeeding against SIDS," but the results weren't consistent.

How does breastfeeding provide a protective effect against SIDS? It could be because breastfed babies are more easily arousable when they are 2 to 3 months old, which is around the 2 to 4 month peak age of SIDS cases, or maybe it is because breastfeeding provides some immunologic advantage over formula.

However breastfeeding protects against SIDS, this is just one more good reason to choose breastfeeding over baby formula, in addition to doing all of the other things that can reduce your baby's risk of SIDS, such as putting him to sleep on his back, giving him a pacifier once he is breastfeeding well, not smoking, and not letting your baby get overheated, etc.

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