Protecting Babies From Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, SIDS?

I understand that breastfeeding cuts the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. How long should breastfeeding continue for this purpose?

– February 12, 2018

We’ve known for some time that breastfeeding reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). New research has revealed that just two months of it can cut a baby’s risk of SIDS by 40 percent. What’s more, babies don’t have to be exclusively breastfed for the two months – a combination of breastfeeding and formula will do. The investigation, from the University of Virginia and the University of Auckland in New Zealand, also found that breastfeeding for more than six months reduced the risk of SIDS even more, by about 64 percent.

SIDS is the sudden death of a healthy baby between the ages of one month and one year. It is the leading cause of death in this age group. SIDS was responsible for 1,600 deaths in the U.S. in 2015, the last year for which complete statistics are available. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, SIDS death rates dropped from 130.3 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 39.4 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015. The decline has been attributed to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ 1992 recommendation to put babies to sleep on their back, not their stomach.

To determine the effect of breastfeeding on the risk of SIDS the researchers analyzed eight major international studies that encompassed 2,267 SIDS deaths and as case controls, 6,837 unaffected babies. They compared babies in both groups to see which ones were breastfed and for how long as well as to identify any other factors that could have influenced risk. We know risk is higher in babies of mothers who smoked during pregnancy as well as in those exposed to smoke after birth. Prematurity, soft bedding, blankets and sharing a bed also increase risk.

The new study found that breastfeeding for less than two months doesn’t reduce (or increase) the risk of SIDS, while breastfeeding for four to six months (whether combined with formula feeding or not) cuts the risk by about 60 percent

The researchers could not explain why breastfeeding protects against SIDS, although they noted that it confers immune benefits and influences infant sleeping patterns.

We know that breast milk is the absolute best food you can give your baby during the first year of life. It provides all an infant’s nutritional needs and transfers antibodies from mother to baby that protect against a long list of infectious diseases. Over time, breastfed babies are less at risk of developing such chronic conditions as diabetes, high cholesterol, asthma, and allergies. They are also less likely to become overweight children than their bottle-fed counterparts.

Andrew Weil, M.D.



Fern R. Hauck et al, “Duration of Breastfeeding and Risk of SIDS: An Individual Participant Data Meta-analysis.” Pediatrics, October 2017; e20171324 DOI: 10.1542/peds.2017-1324

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