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Exclusive breastfeeding protects against common childhood respiratory diseases

Published: March 10, 2022

The impact of breastfeeding on common childhood respiratory diseases is still controversial, with some studies actually showing that breastfeeding could increase the risk of certain chronic lung diseases in children (such as asthma). Furthermore, there is limited information on the effect of breastfeeding on other important determinants of pediatric respiratory health (such as the developing microbiome or immune response).

In a recent study by Rosas-Salazar et al., published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI), the authors analyzed data from a birth cohort of 1,949 healthy infants with prospective ascertainment of breastfeeding patterns and common pediatric pulmonary and allergic diseases. In a subgroup of infants, they also characterized the early-life nasal and gut microbiome and measured the levels of 9 nasal cytokines near birth.

Their analyses revealed multiple associations of exclusive breastfeeding with different characteristics of both the nasal and gut microbiome in infancy. In addition, exclusive breastfeeding was positively associated with the levels of infant cytokines that can help fight respiratory viral infections. Furthermore, an increased duration of exclusive breastfeeding was associated with a decreased risk of lower respiratory tract infections (such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia), asthma, and allergic rhinitis in young children, with each month of exclusive breastfeeding decreasing the odds of these conditions by approximately 5%.

The results from this study support a protective causal role of exclusive breastfeeding on the risk of developing common childhood respiratory diseases. They also shed light on potential mechanisms that could underlie these associations (such as the effect of exclusive breastfeeding on the developing microbiome). Health care providers should continue to strongly recommend exclusive breastfeeding to their patients, and they can add the protective effects of exclusive breastfeeding on the development of lower respiratory tract infections, asthma, and allergic rhinitis as some of the potential benefits.

The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI) is an official scientific journal of the AAAAI and is the most-cited journal in the field of allergy and clinical immunology.

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