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Can breastfeeding prevent infants from developing asthma?
Q: I’m due to have my first baby, and I’ve been thinking about whether to breastfeed. Nobody in my family has breastfed their babies—they say it’s just not something we do. But I have a couple of friends and colleagues who’ve breastfed successfully. I’d like to know the health benefits of breastfeeding, especially whether it might protect my baby from asthma. I had asthma as a child, and two of my nieces have bad asthma.
A: Aisha, it’s great that you’re considering breastfeeding. With the support of your friends, colleagues and health care providers, you can be the first in your family to breastfeed and encourage others to do it, too.

Research has shown that breastfeeding has numerous health benefits for babies. It strengthens your baby’s immune system and reduces the risk of colds, ear infections and diarrhea. It also reduces your baby’s chance of SIDS, allergies, overweight and even leukemia. And there’s good news on breastfeeding and asthma: A recent study in Sweden followed 4,000 babies for four years to see whether breastfeeding had any effect on their chance of developing asthma. They found that babies who were exclusively breastfed for four months or more had a significantly lower chance of developing asthma at age 4, by almost 30 percent. Adding three months or more of partial breastfeeding afterward cut the overall risk of developing asthma even more, by more than 50 percent.

Since asthma is hereditary, the fact that you and your nieces have asthma makes it more likely that your baby might get it. Breastfeeding would be an important step to try to reduce your baby’s risk for developing asthma. Another way is to keep the baby away from cigarette smoke—do not smoke, keep your baby away from people who are smoking, and make your home and car smoke-free.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician