Breast feeding may not alter older kids’ health

Exclusive breast feeding for up to 6 months, though beneficial for an infants’ immunity and mothers’ weight, may not alter children’s health risks over the long term, study findings hint.

Dr. Michael S. Kramer, at The Montreal Children’s Hospital in Quebec, Canada, and colleagues assessed children through age 6.5 years for a number of outcomes according to whether they were exclusively breast fed for 6 months, or for 3 months followed by 3 months of combined breast and formula feedings.

Their findings, in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, hint that long-term advantages for children exclusively breast fed for 6 instead of 3 months “do not include lower risks of obesity, asthma, allergy, or dental caries [cavities],” Kramer noted in an email to Reuters Health.

He and colleagues also observed no differences in intelligence, behavior, or blood pressure measures between the 524 children exclusively breast fed for 6 months and the 2,427 fed in this manner for the shorter period.

The healthy-borne children, about half male, and their mothers had been enrolled in a breast feeding intervention study, conducted in the Republic of Belarus, which tallied feeding data through the children’s first year.

In previous analysis of this group, Kramer’s team showed exclusive breast feeding for 6 months tied to significantly lower incidence of gastrointestinal infections from 3 to 6 month of age.

In the current study, which assessed the children’s outcomes through the age of 6.5 years as reported by their pediatricians, mothers, and teachers, the only observed between-group differences were slightly higher measures of body mass, hip circumference, and thickness of the skin at the upper arm - all indicators of greater overall body fat.

However, these associations “seem unlikely to represent” exclusive breast feeding for 6 months as a cause for increased body fat during childhood, the investigators note.

Rather, Kramer and his co-investigators suspect these indicators may be tied to a mother’s confidence “to continue breast feeding if her baby is gaining weight well,” he said.

Kramer’s team plans continued follow up of this group of children through the age of 11 to 12 years to investigate any ties between breast feeding and risk indicators for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, October 2009

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