Breastfeeding may cut kids' eczema risk

Children who were breastfed exclusively in their first few months of life were less likely to develop the chronic skin condition known as eczema, a new study finds.

For the study, researchers analysed data on the health, development and dietary patterns of 1 520 children in the United States who were followed from birth as part of the Infant Feeding Practices Study II, led by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Food and Drug Administration.

Mixed evidence

By the time they were six, about 300 of the children had been diagnosed with eczema at some point in their lives. Nearly six in 10 of those kids had the inflammatory skin disease at age six, the findings showed.

Children in wealthier families and those with a family history of food allergies were more likely to have been diagnosed with eczema by age six, the investigators found.

But the researchers said that children who were exclusively breastfed for at least three months were only 48% as likely to have continued eczema at age six, compared with those who were never breastfed or who were breastfed for less than three months.

"The evidence that being exclusively breastfed protects children from developing eczema later in life remains mixed," said study author Katherine Balas. She is a clinical research assistant for the Children's National Health System, in Washington, D.C.

"Our research team is trying to help fill that data gap," Balas said in a Children's National news release.

Lower risk for many conditions

"While exclusive breastfeeding may not prevent kids from getting eczema, it may protect them from experiencing extended flare-ups," Balas added.

Eczema causes extremely itchy skin, which, when scratched, becomes inflamed and covered with blisters that crack easily. Genes and the environment have been linked with eczema, but much remains unknown about the disease, such as how best to prevent it.

Breastfed infants have a lower risk for many chronic conditions, including asthma and obesity, according to the CDC.

The study was to be presented at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology annual meeting, in San Francisco. Research presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Image credit: iStock

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