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Breastfeeding halves risk of SIDS
SIDS and Kids has revised their safe sleeping guidelines to include a new recommendation - 'breastfeed baby if you can'.
The new recommendation is based on research that shows breastfeeding more than halves the risk of sudden and unexpected infant death.
Review* author and safe sleeping expert Adjunct Professor Jeanine Young says studies conducted over the past 15 years have consistently found that breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS.
"A recent review published in 2011 that considered all the evidence together, showed that breastfeeding a baby more than halves the chances of a baby dying suddenly and unexpectedly," she says.
Professor Young says the studies show the risk is significantly reduced for mothers who exclusively breastfeed and breastfeed for longer.
She says the protective effect of breastfeeding is believed to be due to several factors – in the action of breastfeeding but also the components of breast milk itself.
"Babies who are breastfed are more easily aroused during active sleep than formula fed infants which is protective for a baby's breathing and swallow mechanisms," she says.
"Breast milk also contains immunoglobulins and cytokines which help a baby's immune system to fight infection. When a baby is born they have some immunity passed on from their mother – by 2-4 months of age (the peak age for SIDS) a baby's own levels of immunoglobulin G are low and their maternally acquired levels are decreasing.
"Breast milk helps to boost these immunoglobulins to help protect baby from infection. Babies who are breastfed tend to have reduced respiratory and gastrointestinal infections. Infants whose deaths are attributed to SIDS and SUDI (sudden unexpected deaths in infancy) often have had a minor infection in the days before the death that was not sufficient alone to cause the death, but which may have contributed in some way."
But while the link between SIDS and breastfeeding is confirmed, Professor Young emphasises that it is just one of six recommendations.
"It is important for women who wish to breastfeed to have support in feeding their babies [but] some women are not able to breastfeed for a number of reasons," she says.
"These mums need to remember that the message 'breastfeed baby if you can' is one of six messages to reduce the risk of sudden and unexpected deaths in infancy. The SIDS and Kids 2012 Sleep Safe, My Baby campaign contains five other messages that parents can use in caring for their baby that will reduce sudden infant deaths.
"Other contributing factors like not smoking near babies and sleeping babies on their back are equally important ways to significantly reduce the risk."
SIDS and Kids CEO Leanne Raven says it is important to arm parents with the best possible information to help reduce the risk of SIDS.
The Safe Sleeping Campaign was introduced in 1990 and from 1989-2010 the rate of SIDS has decreased by 80%.
The six ways to sleep baby safely and reduce the risk of sudden and unexpected death in infancy:
- Sleep baby on the back from birth, not on the tummy or side
- Sleep baby with head and face uncovered
- Keep baby smoke free before birth and after
- Provide a safe sleeping environment night and day
- Sleep baby in their own safe sleeping place in the same room as an adult caregiver for the first six to twelve months
- Breastfeed baby if you can.- Rebecca Galton
SIDS and Kids annual fundraiser Red Nose Day is on Friday June 29.
SIDS and Kids is an Australian community-based organisation dedicated to saving the lives of babies and children during pregnancy, birth, infancy and childhood and to supporting bereaved families.
* Young J, Watson, Ellis L, Raven L. (2012) Responding to evidence: breastfeed baby if you can – the sixth public health recommendation to reduce the risk of sudden and unexpected death in infancy. Breastfeeding Review Vol 20, Issue 1, pages 7-16.