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Breastfeeding cuts risk of eczema by 54%, reveals study

Breastfed babies are largely protected against developing eczema as teenagers, research suggests.

Babies whose mothers breastfeed exclusively for at least three months have a 54 per cent lower risk of eczema at the age of 16, the study found.

The researchers, from King’s College London, the University of Bristol and Harvard University, tracked 13,000 babies born in 1996 and 1997 until they were 16.

Eczema causes the skin to become itchy, dry, cracked, sore and red.

It affects around one in five children and one in ten adults.

Babies whose mothers breastfeed exclusively for at least three months have a 54 per cent lower risk of eczema at the age of 16, a study found

Study leader Dr Carsten Flohr of Guy’s and St Thomas’ and King’s College London, said: ‘The WHO recommends between four and six months of exclusive breastfeeding to aid prevention of allergy and associated illnesses.

‘Our findings add further weight to the importance of campaigns like the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, which is tackling low rates of breastfeeding globally.’

What else did they find? 

The study, published in the JAMA Paediatrics journal, found 0.3 per cent of breastfed children developed eczema at the age of 16, compared to 0.7 per cent of those who were not breastfed.

The UK has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world.

The NHS suggests that women should feed their babies exclusively with breast milk until they are at least six months old, and then continue breastfeeding while gradually introducing other food.

Women are advised: ‘The longer you breastfeed, the longer the protection lasts and the greater the benefits.’

But many women struggle to breastfeed for a variety of reasons – including prior illness, low milk supplies or because their baby simply does not take to it.

After years of pre-breastfeeding campaigns, experts have recently started to warn that women are under too much pressure.


Children who are breastfed are less hyperactive by the time they turn three, research suggested in March.

However, no such link could be found for boosting intelligence – despite a host of research having previously found the opposite.

It comes amid mounting pressure on mothers to resort to the natural way of nourishing their infants, with rates decreasing in many Western countries.

Researchers from University College Dublin measured the cognitive abilities of nearly 8,000 children who were breastfed to make the finding. 

Most mothers in the UK abandon breast milk very early in their child’s life, turning instead to formula.

Breastfeeding: The facts 

Only 34 per cent of British children are breastfed until six months, compared to 49 per cent in the US, 50 per cent in Germany and 62 per cent in Switzerland.

And only one in every 200 children in the UK – just 0.5 per cent – are breastfed until the age of 12 months, the lowest level in the world.

In comparison, 27 per cent of children in the US, 35 per cent in Norway, 44 per cent in New Zealand and 92 per cent in India are breastfed until they are one.

While breastfeeding appeared to protect against eczema, the study provided no evidence that it reduced the risk of asthma.

Passing ‘good’ bacteria 

The researchers, who are funded by the NHS National Institute for Health Research, think breastfeeding helps ward off allergies by passing ‘good’ bacteria from mother to infant very early in life.

They said this is thought to provide their immune system with a strong ‘footprint’ that can still be seen in adulthood.

Professor Neena Modi, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: ‘This study adds further weight to the evidence of the health benefits of breastfeeding for babies.

‘But it also shows that these should not be exaggerated and mothers should certainly not be demonised if for whatever reason they do not breastfeed.’