Breast-feeding lowers the frequency and duration of acute respiratory infection and diarrhea in infants under six months of age

J Nutr. 1997 Mar;127(3):436-43. doi: 10.1093/jn/127.3.436.


It remains unclear whether breast-feeding protects infants against acute respiratory infection (ARI). To determine if breast-feeding protects against ARI as it does against diarrhea, 170 healthy newborns were followed for 6 mo. Feeding mode, incidence and duration of ARI and diarrhea were recorded biweekly. Infants were classified as fully or partially breast-fed, or formula-fed. Incidence and prevalence were computed monthly. The effects of duration of breast-feeding and potential confounders were analyzed by multiple and logistic regression analyses. Incidence and prevalence of ARI were significantly lower in fully breast-fed infants than in formula-fed infants from birth up to 4 mo, as was the mean duration of individual episodes (5.1 +/- 3.5 vs. 6.4 +/- 3.6 d, respectively). Incidence of ARI was negatively associated with duration of breast-feeding and positively associated with the presence of siblings (P < 0.05). The prevalence of ARI was associated only with the duration of breast-feeding (P < 0.05). Infants that were never breast-fed and that had one or more siblings were more likely to have an episode of ARI than those fully breast-fed for at least 1 mo. Incidence, prevalence, and duration of individual episodes of diarrhea were also lower in breast-fed infants. Incidence (r = -0.17, P < 0.02) and prevalence (r = -0.19, P < 0.008) were negatively associated with duration of full breast-feeding. Introduction of solid food was not associated with further episodes of diarrhea. The present results demonstrate protection against ARI as a result of breast-feeding similar to that for diarrhea, i.e., lower incidence and percentage of days ill, and episodes of shorter duration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Diarrhea, Infantile / epidemiology
  • Diarrhea, Infantile / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Mexico / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / prevention & control*
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors