Breastfeeding, introduction of other foods and effects on health: a systematic literature review for the 5th Nordic Nutrition Recommendations

Food Nutr Res. 2013 Apr 12:57. doi: 10.3402/fnr.v57i0.20823. Print 2013.


The present systematic literature review is part of the 5th revision of the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations. The overall aim was to review recent scientific data valid in a Nordic setting on the short- and long-term health effects of breastfeeding (duration of both any and exclusive breastfeeding) and introduction of foods other than breast milk. The initial literature search resulted in 2,011 abstracts; 416 identified as potentially relevant. Full paper review resulted in 60 quality assessed papers (6A, 48B, and 6C). A complementary search found some additional papers. The grade of evidence was classified as convincing, probable, limited-suggestive, and limited-no conclusion. The evidence was convincing of a protective dose/duration effect of breastfeeding against overweight and obesity in childhood and adolescence, overall infections, acute otitis media, and gastrointestinal and respiratory tract infections. The evidence was probable that exclusive breastfeeding for longer than 4 months is associated with slower weight gain during the second half of the first year which could be part of the reason behind the reduced risk of later overweight or obesity. There was also probable evidence that breastfeeding is a protective factor against inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, and diabetes (type 1 and 2), provides beneficial effects on IQ and developmental scores of children as well as a small reductive effect on blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels in adulthood. Other associations explored were limited-suggestive or inconclusive. In conclusion, convincing and probable evidence was found for benefits of breastfeeding on several outcomes. The recommendation in NNR2004 about exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months and continued partial breastfeeding thereafter can stand unchanged. The relatively low proportion of infants in the Nordic countries following this recommendation indicates that strategies that protect, support and promote breastfeeding should be enhanced, and should also recognize the benefits for long-term health.

Keywords: atopic disease; blood pressure; celiac disease; diabetes; infectious disease; overweight.