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Breastfeeding 'reduces the risk of teenage eczema'

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith
woman breastfeeding

13th November 2017 – The effect of breastfeeding on the risk of developing eczema and allergies has been hotly debated. So far, studies have yielded inconsistent results.

Two new studies underline the doubts that remain on the topic.

In the first, researchers found that encouraging mothers to breastfeed their babies can substantially decrease the risk of children having eczema in their teens.

However, the second research paper suggests that breastfeeding might actually increase the risk of eczema for people in later life.

Teaching mums to breastfeed

A study led by King's College London found that a programme to encourage mums to breastfeed led to a 54% reduction in atopic eczema cases when their offspring were aged 16 years compared to those who were not encouraged to breastfeed.

The authors of the study, in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics, say their findings underline the importance of World Health Organisation advice that mothers should breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first 4 to 6 months.


Atopic eczema is the most common type of eczema caused by skin inflammation. It causes the skin to become itchy, red, dry and cracked.

The word 'atopic' is used to describe a group of conditions, including asthma and hayfever, linked to the body's immune system.

Eczema is most common in children. It is estimated that 1 in 5 children in the UK develop it as some stage.

A breastfeeding course

The latest findings are based on 17,046 mothers and their newborn babies in 30 Belarusian maternity hospitals and children's clinics. Half of them provided breastfeeding support modelled on international best practice and the other half did not.

Those mothers on the programme were told about how to maintain a flow of milk, the importance of breastfeeding exclusively and delaying weaning, and how to cope with any common problems. The mothers were checked periodically to see how they were getting on.

When the children were aged 16 they were physically examined for signs of eczema.

The teenagers whose mothers were taught about breastfeeding were less likely to have eczema. Of the 7,064 children in the breastfeeding intervention group, 21 (0.3%) had signs of atopic eczema compared with 43 of 6,493 (0.7%) children in the control group.

A test to check for lung function and asthma recorded little difference between the 2 groups.

Could breastfeeding increase eczema rates?

The second study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, examined the effects of breastfeeding in the UK on eczema, asthma and hayfever and included data from 336,364 middle-aged individuals.

It found that breastfed babies were more likely to develop eczema and hayfever than those who were not breastfed.

However, the authors of the study from Uppsala University, Sweden, say they are unable to prove cause and effect because they carried out an observational study using third party data.

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