Background: The fact that breastfeeding may protect against allergic diseases remains controversial, with hardly any reports from developing countries. Prolonged breastfeeding was shown to reduce the risk of allergic and respiratory diseases.
Aim: The aim of this study was to assess the relationship between breastfeeding and the development of childhood asthma and allergic diseases in Qatari children at age 0-5 years. Additionally, this study investigated the effect of prolonged breastfeeding on the allergic diseases in a developing country.
Design: This is a cross sectional survey.
Setting: Well baby clinics and Pediatric clinics in the 11 Primary Health Care Centers and Hamad General Hospital, Hamad Medical Corporation, State of Qatar.
Subjects: A multistage sampling design was used and a representative sample of 1500 Qatari infants and pre-school children with age range of 0-5 years and mothers aged between 18 to 47 years were surveyed during the period from October 2006 to September 2007 in Qatar. Out of the 1500 mothers of children, 1278 mothers agreed to participate in this study with the response rate of 85.2%.
Methods: A confidential, anonymous questionnaire was completed by the selected subjects assessing breastfeeding and allergic diseases. Questionnaires were administered to women who were attending Primary Health Centers for child immunization. Questionnaire included allergic rhinitis, wheezing, eczema, and additional questions included mode and duration of breastfeeding, tobacco smoke exposure, number of siblings, family income, level of maternal education, parental history of allergies. Univariate and multivariate statistical methods were performed for statistical analysis.
Results: More than half of the infants (59.3%) were exclusively breastfed, followed by infants with partial breastfeeding (28.3%) and artificial fed (12.4%). There was a significant difference found across these three categories of infants in terms of their age groups, smoking status of father, socio-economic status and parental consanguinity. Asthma (15.6%), wheezing (12.7%), allergic rhinitis (22.6%), and eczema (19.4%) were less frequent in exclusive breast fed children, compared to infants with partial breast feeding and formula milk. Ear infection (P = 0.0001) and eczema (P = 0.007) were found significant in infants with the history of maternal atopy, while asthma (P = 0.0001) and allergic rhinitis (P = 0.015) were found significant in infants with the history of paternal atopy. The main factors associated with mode of feeding were mothers having first baby, asthmatic mother and parental history of allergic rhinitis. The risk of allergic diseases, eczema, wheeze and ear infection in particular, were lower in children with prolonged breast feeding (>6 months) than in those with short-term breast feeding duration (<6 months).
Conclusion: The current study indicates that exclusive breast-feeding prevents development of allergic diseases in children. The main factors associated with breastfeeding for allergic diseases were being the first baby, maternal history of asthma, and parental history of allergic rhinitis. The study findings opens a big avenue for interventional role of breastfeeding. Therefore, we recommend breastfeeding is as one possible way to reduce the risk of onset asthma and allergic diseases in developing countries.