Breastfeeding has long been known as a truly amazing force of nature.
Breast milk helps babies fight infections, can help prevent the development of allergies, supports the improved ability to learn, and so much more. Breastfeeding has also been linked to decreased rates of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), but until recently the extent was unknown.
SIDS is the sudden and unexpected death of an infant less than one year old. Fortunately the rate of SIDS is low (about 90 in 100,000 babies), but certainly even one baby is too many to lose—which is why the findings of a recent study done at the University of Virginia are so important.
Researchers found found that when babies are breastfed for at least two months, their risk of SIDS is cut almost in half. And the longer a baby is breastfed for, the more protected against SIDS they are.
It gets better.
The study looked at more than 9,000 infants across the world, and found that the benefits are the same even when babies also receive formula.
Fern Hauck, MD tells us, “The other important finding from our study is that any amount of breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS—in other words, both partial and exclusive breastfeeding appear to provide the same benefit.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, and then continuing to breastfeed (along with introducing other foods), until the baby is at least a year old. Understanding just how important the role of breastfeeding in SIDS prevention is, we can expect to see even more encouragement to breastfeeding from medical providers, especially within the first two months of a baby’s life.
In order for this to happen, we must increase the support and education we give pregnant people and new parents around breastfeeding.
We do a great disservice to new parents when we say, “Make sure you breastfeed, it’s natural!” but then don’t offer them the help they need to do it. Breastfeeding may be natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Breastfeeding classes, lactation counselors and consultants, and feeding support groups must be easily accessible to all new parents. In addition, parental leave, breastfeeding and pumping policies need to be updated to realistically allow parents to care for their babies the way they feel best.
To learn more about preventing SIDS, please visit healthychildren.org.
This post was originally published on April 14, 2020. It has been updated.