SAN FRANCISCO — Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 3 months of life appeared to protect against eczema when children reached school age, but not in the years before, researchers said here.
Although exclusive breastfeeding lasting for at least the first 90 days of life was not associated with significantly lower risk overall for developing the chronic skin condition, it was associated with significantly lower odds of having eczema at age 6 years, according to Katherine Balas, of Children’s National Health Systems in Washington, and colleagues.
At a press conference at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) annual meeting, Balas said earlier studies examining the impact of breastfeeding on eczema development have been mixed, with little consensus on whether exclusive breastfeeding plays a significant protective role.
In the current study, Balas and colleagues analyzed data from the Infant Feeding Practices Study II, a longitudinal study conducted by CDC and FDA researchers from 2005 to 2007. The study tracked the diets of women from their third trimester of pregnancy and examined feeding practices during the first year of their babies lives.
Balas’ group used multivariable logistic regression models controlling for variables such as sociodemographic and family history of allergic disease to conduct the follow-up analysis, which included 1,520 mothers who were surveyed regarding the current health and dietary patterns of their children, then age 6 years.
Roughly 300 (20.33%) of the children had been diagnosed with eczema at some point in their lives, and 58.5% of these children had eczema symptoms at age 6 years (n=181).
Exclusive breastfeeding duration was not significantly associated with general eczema diagnosis, but children exclusively breastfed for ≥3 months had significantly lower odds of continued eczema during the 6-year follow-up (adjusted odds ratio 0.477, 95% CI 0.259-0.878, P=0.017).
The observed protection was not seen in infants who were not breastfed or were breastfed for ≤3 months.
“There are a lot of factors that may impact a child’s likelihood of developing eczema,” Balas said. “Socioeconomic status and family history of food allergies certainly plays a role. But this research is telling us that by breastfeeding an infant for more than 3 months, the likelihood of eczema persisting later into childhood drops significantly.”
She said she and her colleagues hope to study how breastfeeding might impact eczema risk, focusing on how maternal diet and the introduction of certain foods into a baby’s diet may play a role.
Balas added that it is also not clear if the protection observed in the current study persists as children grow older.
“Some earlier research suggests that while protection might be seen early on, there is no difference (linked to breastfeeding) as children reach their teen years,” she said. “That needs more study.”