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Hold Off on Solid Foods Until Breastfed Baby Is 6 Months

Monday, February 06, 2006

Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center have found another reason to keep those fancy baby spoons in the drawer until infants reach 6 months old. Babies who are breastfed – exclusively – for the first six months have fewer cases of pneumonia and ear infections than babies who were introduced to other foods between 4 and 6 months.

The study, in February’s Pediatrics, is the first to document a decreased risk for respiratory-tract infections during the first two years for children who receive only breast milk until they are  6 months old.

The study was led by Caroline Chantry, M.D., of the University of California Davis Medical Center, but was executed largely at Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong with the help of Cynthia Howard, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor, and Peggy Auinger, M.S., senior research analyst. Howard is also the pediatric director of the mother-baby unit at Rochester General Hospital.

“This study supports the current recommendation to exclusively breastfeed healthy term babies until they are  6 months old,” Howard said. “Even two months makes a difference.”

Infants who were fully breastfed for at least four -- but not six -- months were almost four times more likely to develop pneumonia than infants who were fully breastfed for a full six months. Recurrent ear infections were almost two times more likely. The data of 2,277 children from 6- to 24-months-old were analyzed from National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey III, a nationally representative cross-sectional home survey conducted from 1988 to 1994.

Chantry said her recommendation to parents eager to feed their healthy, full-term babies solid foods will change only slightly: “‘We recommend holding off on solid foods until about 6 months, as breast milk has everything the baby needs until then. The more breast milk your baby receives, the greater the health benefits of breastfeeding for both of you.’ And now I might add, ‘For example, babies fully breastfed for six months have fewer ear infections than those fully breastfed for only four months.”

The study also adds to growing evidence that breastfeeding benefits are dose- and duration-responsive, Howard added. Earlier studies have shown that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months decreases the risk for diarrheal diseases.

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