Could Breastfeeding Prevent Eczema?

Nearly 32 million Americans suffer from the dermatitis condition known as eczema. Around the world it only affects about 3 percent of the total adult population but may be a little more prevalent in children.  It is a chronic condition characterized by extremely dry and itchy skin that can become inflamed and crack or blister easily, particularly if scratched. While scientists have been able to categorize its symptoms and uncover its inflammatory nature, we still do not know very much about it.  

One thing we are starting to learn, however, is that infants who are breastfed appear to be at a lower risk for developing this annoying condition. As a matter of fact, the United States Centers for Disease Control continue to advise that breastfeeding may be the ideal way to reduce an infant’s risk for developing many chronic conditions throughout their lives, including things like asthma and obesity. 

But focusing on the most recent study, researchers say that the evidence indeed suggests that breastfeeding definitely appears to reduce eczema risk.  According to lead study author Katherine M. Balas, BS, BA, “The evidence that being exclusively breastfed protects children from developing eczema later in life remains mixed.” 

A clinical research assistant at Children’s National Hospital, Balas goes on to say, “Our research team is trying to help fill that data gap.”

The research began when Balas and colleagues tapped into data originally collected through the Infant Feeding Practices Study II. This was a longitudinal study led by both the CDC and the FDA, which collected data between 2005 and 2007.  It also took into account the FDA’s 2012 follow-up examination of the very same study cohort and its data. 

This was the very first study to track the diets of 2,000 pregnant women starting in the third trimester and examined their feeding practices through the first year of their babies’ lives. The follow-up cohort inquiry, then, examined the health and overall development as well as the dietary patterns for 1,520 of these children when they reached the age of 6.

Of these children, roughly 300 had been diagnosed with eczema at some point.  By the time these children were 6, nearly 59 percent still had it.  

Balas concludes, “Children who were exclusively breastfed for three months or longer were significantly less likely (adjusted odds ratio: 0.477) to have continued eczema at age 6, compared with peers who were never breastfed or who were breastfed for less than three months. While exclusive breastfeeding may not prevent kids from getting eczema, it may protect them from experiencing extended flare-ups.”

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