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Breastfeeding OK for Moms With Asthma

Study: Breastfed Babies Have Better Childhood Lung Function

By Salynn Boyles
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Feb. 3, 2012 -- New moms with asthma can safely breastfeed without worrying that the practice will increase their child's asthma risk, a new study shows.

Researchers followed children in the United Kingdom from birth until around age 12 to assess the impact of breastfeeding, if any, on lung development.

They found that kids who were breastfed as babies had modestly better lung function than those who were not -- and breastfeeding seemed to convey the most protection to children whose mothers had asthma.

Researcher: Moms With Asthma Should Breastfeed

The findings appear to contradict several earlier studies that raised concerns that breast milk may not always be best for babies born to mothers with the respiratory disease.

The new study was published online ahead of print in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

"We found evidence for improvement in some aspects of lung function in children who were breastfed, which was strongest in those whose mothers had asthma," says researcher Claudia E. Kuehni, MD, of the University of Bern's Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine in Bern, Switzerland.

"This is reassuring for new mothers with asthma," she says. "Like other mothers, they should be encouraged to breastfeed."

Kuehni and colleagues analyzed data from almost 1,500 children born in the early to mid-1990s who were enrolled in a larger child development study.

Parents provided information on breastfeeding history when their children were 12 months old, and the children had a series of tests to assess lung function between the ages of 8 and 14.

Children who were breastfed for at least four months showed evidence of significantly better lung function by one measure.

Being breastfed as babies was associated with better scores on all the lung function measures among children whose mothers had asthma.

Breastfed Babies Healthier Overall?

The evidence as a whole suggests that breastfeeding is beneficial for lung development, even when mom has asthma, says pediatrician Roya Samuels, MD, of Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

She says it is clear that babies who are breastfed tend to be healthier overall, with fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and gastrointestinal problems.

"Moms with asthma can absolutely be reassured that breastfeeding will provide significant benefits for their children," she says.

She says the new study finds no support for the theory that new moms with poorly controlled asthma may expose their babies to hormones through their breast milk that cause inflammation and increase asthma risk.

"No research has been able to prove this theory or debunk it, until now," she says.

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SOURCES: Dogaru, C. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, published online Feb. 3, 2012.Claudia Kuehni, MD, MPH, professor in pediatric epidemiology, Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Bern, Switzerland.Roya Samuels, MD, pediatrician, Cohen Children's Medical Center, New Hyde Park, N.Y.News release, American Thoracic Society.WebMD Health News: "Breastfeeding May Influence Asthma Risk."

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