SIDS studies reviewed: Breastfeeding lowers risk

If you are reading this blog, you may already be chest deep in information about breastfeeding. Yes, it reduces infections and allergies, it’s cheap and needs only for mom to remember to not wear a dress with a high neck to be readily available and so on. I posted recently on breastfeeding in emergency situations including Hurricane Katrina as breastmilk is a portable, sterile food to give your baby— after decades of research, a recent literature review has concluded breastfeeding saves lives in a different way.

Breastfeeding and SIDS

As of 2005, the American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) did not include breastfeeding as a preventative measure. A recent literature review published in the journal Pediatrics, concludes that needs to change.

After reviewing 288 studies done between 1966 and 2009, the authors chose 18 to review in detail, concluding without caveat that breastfeeding protects against SIDS. Their findings indicate that when breastfeeding is exclusive, it affords even better protection.

Among their recommendations, the researchers suggest that this specific benefit of nursing be included along with other public education campaigns for breastfeeding.

Sticking to my cans

Having had my son in 2011, I was surprised how readily many people in my community (including many health care professionals) defaulted to infant formula as a solution to a number of problems I faced as a new mom. I was encouraged to keep some in the house (just in case), warned by a nurse I would be ordered to feed my son formula on his second day in the hospital if he didn’t pass a certain test, and encouraged to supplement with formula so that I could get some sleep after a hard labour—all actions that threatened the sensitive hours, weeks and months after birth when breastfeeding becomes established.

Now I believe in a woman’s right to choose what works for her (formula or breast), but our communities, families and health care professionals are often operating on old knowledge and don’t share the full extent of the risks and benefits of activities like co-sleeping, breastfeeding and vaccinations. If I had known the list of risks of formula and benefits of breastfeeding including decreased risk of death, I wouldn’t have worried I was being over-the-top with my dedication to nursing my son. I am lucky I stuck to my instincts and trusted my cans.

As it turns out, after a steep learning curve, breastfeeding is a daily blessing for me and my son and an activity that gave me back confidence in my body after unexpected labour outcomes.

Badge of sleepy honour

In addition to giving advice on if, when and how long to breastfeed, it seems parental egos are caught up in a variety of characteristics about their children: when they walk, how long they sleep, how fast they grow. Breastfed babies don’t and shouldn’t sleep through the night for some time due to the readily digestible nature of breastmilk (their tummies are empty in around two to three hours). The study mentions much of the research points towards a breastfed baby’s tendency to wake during the night as her protection against SIDS.

So the next time someone boasts about their baby sleeping through the night at a month old, say a little prayer of thanks that yours doesn’t.

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