Does Breastfeeding Reduce Eczema Risk in Children?

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Many benefits of breastfeeding for infants are well established. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, babies tend to digest breast milk more easily than any type of formula. Breast milk supports a strong immune system and appropriate weight gain. The CDC and the Surgeon General are both committed to increasing breastfeeding rates to improve infant health. However, one purported perk of breastfeeding for children’s skin has unfortunately been found to be lacking.

Eczema Not Linked to Early Weaning

Up until now, the World Health Organization has instructed parents that 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding may decrease the chances of a child developing eczema later. This recommendation was based on the evidence available at the time. However, the belief that exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life reduces eczema risk in childhood has not been upheld by a recent large scale British study.

The researchers collected data on more than 50,000 children from 8-12 years old across 21 countries. The information gathered included how long the children were exclusively breastfed, a skin prick allergy test, and a visual examination for signs of eczema. In most nations, there was no difference in eczema rates between children who were exclusively breastfed for 4+ months and those who had formula or other foods introduced.

What Parents Should Know

Parents can now be assured that feeding their child both breast milk and formula or introducing other foods early did not cause their child’s skin condition. Researchers are now focusing on whether early introduction of common allergenic foods (such as peanuts) may actually help decrease allergic sensitivities. However, much more study is required in this area before any science-based recommendations can be made. Breastfeeding still has many well demonstrated benefits that make it the best choice for most infants. Parents should discuss their baby’s diet with their pediatrician for guidance on when it is appropriate to introduce new foods. A pediatric dermatologist should be consulted for advice on treating chronic or severe childhood eczema.

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