It appears women who exclusively breastfeed for the first four months after birth do not decrease an infant's risk of eczema. Researchers published their report in the British Journal of Dermatology. Despite the findings, doctors still encourage women to breastfeed for at least the first 6 to 12 months or longer for optimal overall health benefits.
The large-scale study included more than 50,000 children from all over the world. Researchers reviewed health records of the children ranging in age from 8 to 12. Children in the study were examined for eczema and give skin allergy tests to determine if there were any common allergies. Parents of the children were also asked to answer questions about breastfeeding, weening and skin conditions. The aim of the study was to find a connection between exclusive breastfeeding and reduced risk of eczema, but researchers found no such connection, despite a connection reported in previous studies.
The effect of breastfeeding on skin conditions like eczema is highly important because eczema is typically caused by some form of allergy. There is some thought that introducing common food allergens via breast milk from birth reduces the risk of food allergies, but this was not a topic of study during this research.
According to Dr. Carsten Flohr, children in the study who were exclusively breastfed for the first four months of life gained no protection against eczema. As a matter of fact, both exclusively and non-exclusively breastfed children showed the same risk of eczema. Carsten reported, “Although there was a small protective effect of breastfeeding per se on severe eczema in affluent countries, we found no evidence that exclusive breastfeeding for four months or longer protects against eczema in either developed or developing nations.”
Breastfeeding is still the most effective and inexpensive means of feeding a newborn. The positive health benefits of breastfeeding have been proven in numerous, large-scale, controlled, peer-reviewed studies, but it does not appear mothers can protect their children from eczema by breastfeeding alone.