Hospitalizations Reduced in Breastfed Infants

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Tomi Ajetunmobi MSc and Bruce Whyte MSc

Bespoke Specialist Services
Information Services Division
NHS National Services Scotland
Edinburgh

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: In developing countries, breast milk is considered the best source of nutrition for human infants, vital for child health and development. In developed counties, however, the message that ‘breast is best’ though widely accepted, is not practiced, particularly in the UK; debate continues on the role played by infant feeding in ensuring child health.

The benefits of breastfeeding in terms of child health have been difficult to prove methodologically for ethical reasons. Moreover, most studies that have shown an association are often limited by the sample size, scope of the data and adjustment for a wide range of confounders particularly socioeconomic factors, which influence both infant feeding and child health outcomes.

Using a range of linked administrative records comprising 502,948 singletons born in Scotland between 1997 and 2013 (representing approximately 70% of all Scottish births) , the study aimed to quantify the association between infant feeding patterns reported at a routine check-up 6 to 8 weeks after birth and hospital admission for childhood common illnesses. These included gastrointestinal, respiratory and urinary tract infections, otitis media, fever, asthma, eczema, diabetes and dental caries. The linkage made it possible to adjust for a wide range of confounders.

Our findings were consistent with other studies and showed a greater risk of hospital admission amongst infants who were not breastfed particularly within six months of birth, even after adjustment for parental, delivery and infant health factors and features of the health care system. At least one in five hospitalisations for gastrointestinal and lower respiratory tract infections within six months of birth may have been averted (all other factors remaining constant) had all children in the cohort been exclusively breastfed 6 to 8 weeks after birth. The association was also evident beyond six months of birth.


Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: Breastfeeding is vital for ensuring child health and protects against ill health and the risk of hospital admission for common childhood illnesses, even in developed countries. Increasing the proportion of mothers breastfeeding exclusively will not only improve child health but is likely to produce savings in health care costs also.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Our research has demonstrated that in a Scottish context, and quite possibly in other places, there is great potential in linking administrative data sets together for the purposes of population health research.

We plan to undertake further research on infant feeding and hospitalisation focusing on the health economic costs and savings relating to different modes of feeding. Additionally, there would be benefit in exploring the ‘dose response’ impact of choice and duration of infant feeding on child health.

Citation:

Breastfeeding is Associated with Reduced Childhood Hospitalization: Evidence from a Scottish Birth Cohort (1997-2009)
Omotomilola M. Ajetunmobi | Bruce Whyte | James Chalmers | David M. Tappin | Linda Wolfson | Michael Fleming | Alison MacDonald | Rachael Wood | Diane L. Stockton
The Journal of Pediatrics Available online 30 December 2014