To determine the effects of breastfeeding on SIDS risk, the researchers analyzed eight major international studies that examined 2,259 cases of SIDS and 6,894 control infants where death did not occur. This large collective sample demonstrated the consistency of findings despite differing cultural behaviors across countries, and it provides convincing evidence of the reliability of the findings.

Based on their results, the researchers are calling for “ongoing concerted efforts” to increase rates of breastfeeding around the world. Data from 2007 showed that a quarter of U.S. babies had never been breastfed, the researchers report. (The World Health Organization has established a goal of having more than half of infants worldwide being breastfed exclusively for at least six months by 2025.)

“It’s great for mothers to know that breastfeeding for at least two months provides such a strong protective effect against SIDS,” said researcher Dr. Rachel Moon of the UVA School of Medicine and the UVA Children’s Hospital. “We strongly support international and national efforts to promote breastfeeding.”

It remains unclear why breastfeeding protects against SIDS, though the researchers cite factors such as immune benefits and effects on infant sleeping patterns as possible mechanisms.

The researchers have published their findings in the scientific journal Pediatrics. The research team consisted of John M.D. Thompson of New Zealand’s University of Auckland; Kawai Tanabe of the UVA School of Medicine; Rachel Y. Moon, of the UVA School of Medicine; Edwin A. Mitchell, of the University of Auckland; Cliona McGarvey, of Temple Street Children’s University Hospital in Dublin, Ireland; David Tappin, of the University of Glasgow’s School of Medicine in Scotland; Peter S. Blair, of the School of Social and Community Medicine at the University of Bristol in England; and Fern R. Hauck, of the UVA School of Medicine.

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