According to research out of the University of Manitoba, Breastfeeding could help to reduce wheezing and asthma in infants. Meghan Azad, co-author of the study, says she hopes this sort of research will help increase public support for breastfeeding.
“Understanding that longer breastfeeding is important for reducing wheezing in this case, and other benefits in the case of other studies, is something that should be promoted at the policy level in terms of maternity leaves, access to support for breastfeeding, sort of developing a positive culture for breastfeeding,” says Azad, an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba and a research scientist at the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba.
“These are all things that are, I would say, responsibilities of the policy makers and our governments and our society as a whole, as opposed to just putting all the pressure on individual moms, because that can be really stressful.”
This research was conducted using 2,700 Canadian Babies and moms. These families were followed from birth to age one as part of the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development—or “CHILD”—Study.
Azad and her team found that the longer babies were breastfed, the lower their risk of wheezing. This effect was especially notable in higher-risk babies whose mothers had asthma.
For higher-risk babies, exclusive breastfeeding for six months decreased the rate of wheezing by 62 per cent. For other babies, the drop was 26 per cent.
While the researchers are unsure as to why these results came about, Azad notes that there are two main possibilities: breastfeeding is a form of physical exercise for babies’ lungs, and the nutrients in Breast Milk could also play a role.
“There has been research looking at how hard a baby has to suck on a breast versus a bottle, and it’s a stronger sucking that’s required for breastfeeding,” she said. “So this is thought to be kind of exercise that trains the lungs of these babies to grow up strong, and so if you remove the breastfeeding then the lungs don’t get this exercise.”
What’s more, breast milk contains important enzymes, antibodies and live probiotic bacteria that boost the immune system and help shape the microbiome, which could have an effect on asthma.
Azad says that it is important to delve deeper into this understanding so that moms who can’t breastfeed, or can’t breastfeed for very long, may also benefit.
“This research can benefit all babies, because the more we know about breast milk and how it works, the better we can make our infant formulas, which are necessary as an alternative for moms who can’t breastfeed,” she notes. “The more we know about sort of the optimal feeding for infants, the better we can design nutrition guidelines and infant formulas.”