Breastfeeding and asthma and allergies: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Acta Paediatr. 2015 Dec;104(467):38-53. doi: 10.1111/apa.13132.


Aim: To systematically review the association between breastfeeding and childhood allergic disease.

Methods: Predetermined inclusion/exclusion criteria identified 89 articles from PubMed, CINAHL and EMBASE databases. Meta-analyses performed for categories of breastfeeding and allergic outcomes. Meta-regression explored heterogeneity.

Results: More vs. less breastfeeding (duration) was associated with reduced risk of asthma for children (5-18 years), particularly in medium-/low-income countries and with reduced risk of allergic rhinitis ≤5 years, but this estimate had high heterogeneity and low quality. Exclusive breastfeeding for 3-4 months was associated with reduced risk of eczema ≤2 years (estimate principally from cross-sectional studies of low methodological quality). No association found between breastfeeding and food allergy (estimate had high heterogeneity and low quality). Meta-regression found differences between study outcomes may be attributable to length of breastfeeding recall, study design, country income and date of study inception. Some of the protective effect of breastfeeding for asthma may be related to recall bias in studies of lesser methodological quality.

Conclusion: There is some evidence that breastfeeding is protective for asthma (5-18 years). There is weaker evidence for a protective effect for eczema ≤2 years and allergic rhinitis ≤5 years of age, with greater protection for asthma and eczema in low-income countries.

Keywords: Allergic disease; asthma; meta-analysis; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Asthma / epidemiology*
  • Asthma / prevention & control
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Eczema / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Food Hypersensitivity / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Rhinitis, Allergic / epidemiology*
  • Time Factors