Breastfeeding has a whole host of reported benefits for babies, including a decreased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Now, new research seeking to clarify the link between breastfeeding and SIDS has added some more details about exactly how long women need to breastfeed in order to get that important protection. According to the research review, a lower SIDS risk may come only when women breastfeed their babies for at least two months.
There are so many things parents worry about, but SIDS is definitely one of the scariest fears out there. SIDS is when a seemingly-healthy infant dies unexpectedly, often in his or her crib, according to the Mayo Clinic. The CDC estimated that SIDS affected about 1,600 babies in 2015.
It's no wonder that many parents are eager to do whatever they can to avoid this tragedy. And great strides have been made in recent years to decrease the rate of SIDS, in large part thanks to safer sleeping habits recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, such as avoiding soft bedding in a crib and placing infants on their backs to sleep.
Now, the new research published in the journal of Pediatrics helps provide an even clearer picture of how parents can keep their children safe. The researchers looked at data from eight studies, encompassing 2,267 infants who died from SIDS as well as 6,837 control infants. They found that "breastfeeding duration of at least 2 months was associated with half the risk of SIDS," according to the study.
That wasn't all the researchers found — breastfeeding did not need to be exclusive. Parents could supplement with bottles and formula, and still get the same protective benefit. And breastfeeding for longer periods of time came with increased protection. When mothers breastfed for four to six months, researchers found that the risk of SIDS was 60 percent lower, and when mothers breastfed for six months or longer, researchers found a link to a 64 percent decrease in the odds. But overall, the two month mark was the most important one to hit.
As John Thompson, the study's lead author and a University of Auckland pediatrics researcher, told Reuters via email:
The peak age of SIDS is two to four months, so breastfeeding may need to continue into this apparently more vulnerable period to incur the protective effect.
For mothers who have been happily and easily breastfeeding their babies, the decision to keep going after reading this new research is likely a no-brainer. But breastfeeding simply doesn't work for some women, and that's OK. For new moms who have been trying their best and running into problems, studies like this one are likely to make them feel even more distressed.
Still, it's important to keep in mind that there are plenty of caveats to this research. For one, it wasn't a controlled experiment, but rather a research review of multiple studies with many different variables. The researchers acknowledged that other factors beyond their control, like economic status or parental involvement, could have come into play. Penn State College of Medicine researcher Dr. Ian Paul also told Reuters that it's entirely possible that many of the mothers who were breastfeeding their babies for long periods of time may have been checking on them more frequently during the night, or some similar factor that could help decrease the risk of SIDS.
If you haven't been able to make breastfeeding work for you and your baby, don't worry that you aren't insufficiently protecting him or her from SIDS. This new research is certainly interesting and encouraging, but the review simply shows that breastfeeding can play a large part in helping to keep babies safe. And there are plenty of other things parents can implement too other than breastfeeding, with implementing safe sleep habits as one of them.