Breastfeeding-only linked to less severe eczema

Infants who were exclusively breastfed for more than three months had fewer chronic symptoms, study shows

Exclusive breastfeeding for the first three months could protect infants with eczema from chronic symptoms in childhood, US research suggests.


Data from more than 1500 six-year-olds reveal exclusive breastfeeding doesn’t prevent eczema — but is associated with a lower risk of active disease.

In total, 309 (20%) of the children had an eczema diagnosis and 59% still had symptoms at age six, according to the study led by the Children’s National Health Systems in Washington DC.

But children who had been exclusively breastfed for three months or more were about 52% less likely to have current symptoms than those who had not been breastfed, or who were breastfed for less than three months.

Until now, the impact of exclusive breastfeeding on eczema development had been unclear, according to the researchers.

“Exclusive breastfeeding may not prevent eczema or eczema diagnosis but may play a protective role in decreasing the chronicity of eczema in childhood,” the researchers wrote in an abstract presented at the recent American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

Data for the study were taken at the Infant Feeding Practices Study II and its Year Six follow-up.

Children with a familial history were more likely to have an eczema diagnosis, as were children from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.

However, the reduced risk of chronic eczema with exclusive breastfeeding was independent of these factors.

“Socioeconomic status and family history of food allergies certainly plays a role [in eczema],” lead author Katherine Balas said.

“But this research is telling us that by breastfeeding an infant for more than three months, the likelihood of eczema persisting later into childhood drops significantly.

“Our next steps should explore how the mother’s diet while breastfeeding comes into play and whether this protection against eczema continues into adolescence and, ultimately, adulthood.”

More information: Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 2019.