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01-09-2011 | Article

Exclusive breastfeeding ‘does not protect against childhood eczema’


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MedWire News: Babies who drink only breastmilk for the first 4 months of their life are no less likely to develop eczema than babies who are breastfed for shorter periods or not at all, say researchers.

In a major study involving more than 50,000 schoolchildren, those who had been exclusively breastfed for at least 4 months - as recommended by many governments and allergy experts - were not protected against developing eczema.

"There is no doubt that breast is best in terms of prevention of infections and parental bonding," said study author Hywel Williams, from the University of Nottingham in the UK, "but mothers who cannot breastfeed should not feel guilty if their child develops eczema."

He added: "The evidence that prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding protects against eczema is not convincing."

The research was part of the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC), which collected information on 51,119 children aged between 8 and 12 years from 21 countries.

Parental questionnaires were used to collect information on eczema frequency and breastfeeding. In addition, the children were examined for the presence of eczema and underwent skin-prick testing.

Results showed that the likelihood that children would develop eczema did not differ markedly between babies who were and were not breastfed or with the duration of breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding for the first 4 months of life offered some protection against the development of more severe forms of the skin condition, but this was only the case in some countries.

"Although there was a small protective effect of breastfeeding per se on severe eczema in affluent countries, we found no evidence that exclusive breastfeeding for 4 months or longer protects against eczema in either developed or developing nations," commented Carsten Flohr, from Kings College London in the UK, the study's lead author.

"We feel that the UK breastfeeding guidelines with regard to eczema should therefore be reviewed," he said.

"Further studies are now required to explore how and when solids should be introduced alongside breastfeeding to aid protection against eczema and other allergic diseases."

The results of this study are published in the British Journal of Dermatology.

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Joanna Lyford