Aim: To examine the relation between the duration of breast feeding and morbidity as a result of respiratory illness and infection in the first year of life.
Methods: Prospective birth cohort study of 2602 live born children ascertained through antenatal clinics at the major tertiary obstetric hospital in Perth, Western Australia. Main outcome measures were hospital, doctor, or clinic visits, and hospital admissions for respiratory illness and infection in the first year of life. Main exposure measures were the duration of predominant breast feeding (defined as the age other milk was introduced) and partial (any) breast feeding (defined as the age breast feeding was stopped). Main confounders were gender, gestational age less than 37 weeks, smoking in pregnancy, older siblings, maternal education, and maternal age.
Results: Hospital, doctor, or clinic visits for four or more upper respiratory tract infections were significantly greater if predominant breast feeding was stopped before 2 months or partial breast feeding was stopped before 6 months. Predominant breast feeding for less than six months was associated with an increased risk for two or more hospital, doctor, or clinic visits and hospital admission for wheezing lower respiratory illness. Breast feeding for less than eight months was associated with a significantly increased risk for two or more hospital, doctor, or clinic visits or hospital admissions because of wheezing lower respiratory illnesses.
Conclusions: Predominant breast feeding for at least six months and partial breast feeding for up to one year may reduce the prevalence and subsequent morbidity of respiratory illness and infection in infancy.