The effect of breastfeeding on asthma is controversial, which may be explained by related and interacting early childhood risk factors. We assessed the joint effects of a risk-triad consisting of maternal smoking during pregnancy, breastfeeding for less than 3 months, and recurrent lower respiratory tract infections (RLRTI) on physician-diagnosed childhood asthma. The association was assessed in the Isle of Wight birth cohort study (1989-1990) using a repeated measurement approach with data collection at birth, and at ages 1, 2, 4, and 10 years. The population consists of 1,456 children recruited between January 1989 and February 1990. Prenatal smoking, breastfeeding for less than 3 months, and recurrent lower respiratory infections (RLRTI) were combined into eight risk-triads. Relative risks (RR) and 95% confidence intervals were estimated with a log-linear model. The risk-triad involving RLRTI in infancy, maternal smoking during pregnancy, and breastfeeding for less than 3 months showed a stronger association with asthma at ages 4 and 10 compared to other risk-triads (RR of 5.79 for any asthma at ages 1, 2, 4, and 10; and 3.1 for asthma at ages 4 and 10). Of the three individual risk factors, RLRTI appeared to be the major driver of the combined effects in the risk-triads. The effect of RLRTI on asthma was modified by breastfeeding. Breastfeeding for > or = 3 months also attenuated the effect of prenatal smoking on asthma in children without RLRTI. A high proportion of asthma cases in childhood can be prevented by promoting breastfeeding, by preventing smoking during pregnancy, and by avoidance of recurrent lower respiratory tract infections in early childhood.