10th February 2012
The benefits of breastfeeding are well documented and now there is another reason for new mums to pull on their nursing bra - it reportedly strengthens children's lungs.
A study detailed in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care and Medicine found that breastfeeding strengthens offspring's lungs, even if the mother has asthma, reversing previous thinking that it would increase the child's risk of developing the condition too.
In fact, breastfeeding could be even more important for such infants as the immune boosters in breast milk could protect against allergens.
"I think the evidence is that breastfeeding increases lung volume, independent of if the mother is asthmatic or not," said Dr Wilfried Karmaus, who studies asthma at the University of South Carolina in Columbia but wasn't involved in the new work, in an interview with Reuters Health.
"If the lung volume is increased, then you are less susceptible to asthma. It's important even to tell asthmatic mothers to breastfeed their children."
Over the course of the study, 1,500 UK babies were followed from birth. Their families filled in questionnaires relating to breastfeeding as well as asthma risk factors such as being exposed to second hand smoke. When the children were 14 they undertook a range of lung function and allergy tests.
Overall, it was noted that the longer children were breastfed, the better they performed on the lung tests.
It is thought that the suckling motion children make when breastfeeding may strengthen their lungs, reducing their risk of asthma in later life.
Under current World Health Organisation guidelines, breastfeeding is recommended until infants are six months old.
According to the charity Asthma UK, the medicines people inhale when being treated for asthma will not impact on breastfeeding as it does not enter the bloodstream. However, the medicine in steroid tablets may enter the bloodstream but in such small amounts it will not harm the baby.