Breastfeeding May Prevent Eczema in Offspring

Adhering to breastfeeding guidelines could cut the risk of eczema for offspring in half.

Numerous studies have explored the potential benefits of breastfeeding on young children, including gut health disease prevention.

A new study published by JAMA Pediatrics suggests that breastfeeding may reduce the risk of newborn children developing eczema in their teens.

Eczema—also known as atopic dermatitis—is a common condition characterized by an itchy rash that typically appears during childhood. Approximately 1 in 5 children and 1 in 10 adults have eczema, according to the study authors.

"The [World Health Organization (WHO)] recommends between 4 and 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding to aid prevention of allergy and associated illnesses,” said lead author Dr Carsten Flohr, MD, PhD. “Our findings add further weight to the importance of campaigns like the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), which is tackling low rates of breastfeeding globally."

Included in the PROmotion of Breastfeeding Intervention Trial (PROBIT) were 17,046 mothers and newborn babies. Half of the clinics provided additional support for mothers to adhere to recommendations of the WHO and BFHI, while the other clinics did not implement an intervention.

The authors discovered that children of mothers who exclusively breastfed from birth had a 54% reduced risk of developing eczema by age 16 compared with those who weren’t breastfed, according to the study.

Although breastfeeding was observed to lower the risk of eczema, the authors did not find a statistically significant difference in asthma. They found that 1.5% of children in the intervention group and 1.7% of patients in the control group reported asthma symptoms, according to the study.

"PROBIT, the largest randomized trial ever carried out in the area of human lactation, continues to yield scientifically and clinically important information more than 2 decades after its inception," said principal investigator Michael Kramer, MD.

Current estimates suggest that only 49% of babies have been breastfed in the United states and 34% in the UK, which may leave a significant number of children at risk of developing eczema, according to the authors.

These findings suggest that children of mothers who adhered to breastfeeding guidelines may have a significantly reduced risk of developing eczema, in addition to other health benefits, according to the study.

"We provide convincing evidence from a large randomised [sic] trial of 17,000 mothers and their children that guiding and helping mothers to exclusively breastfeed results in their children having a lower risk of eczema as adolescents,” said researcher Richard Martin, PhD.