Objective: To investigate if there is a reduced risk of type 1 diabetes in children breastfed or exclusively breastfed by performing a pooled analysis with adjustment for recognized confounders.
Research design and methods: Relevant studies were identified from literature searches using MEDLINE, Web of Science, and EMBASE. Authors of relevant studies were asked to provide individual participant data or conduct prespecified analyses. Meta-analysis techniques were used to combine odds ratios (ORs) and investigate heterogeneity between studies.
Results: Data were available from 43 studies including 9,874 patients with type 1 diabetes. Overall, there was a reduction in the risk of diabetes after exclusive breast-feeding for >2 weeks (20 studies; OR = 0.75, 95% CI 0.64-0.88), the association after exclusive breast-feeding for >3 months was weaker (30 studies; OR = 0.87, 95% CI 0.75-1.00), and no association was observed after (nonexclusive) breast-feeding for >2 weeks (28 studies; OR = 0.93, 95% CI 0.81-1.07) or >3 months (29 studies; OR = 0.88, 95% CI 0.78-1.00). These associations were all subject to marked heterogeneity (I(2) = 58, 76, 54, and 68%, respectively). In studies with lower risk of bias, the reduced risk after exclusive breast-feeding for >2 weeks remained (12 studies; OR = 0.86, 95% CI 0.75-0.99), and heterogeneity was reduced (I(2) = 0%). Adjustments for potential confounders altered these estimates very little.
Conclusions: The pooled analysis suggests weak protective associations between exclusive breast-feeding and type 1 diabetes risk. However, these findings are difficult to interpret because of the marked variation in effect and possible biases (particularly recall bias) inherent in the included studies.