Breastfeeding associated with reduced risk of asthma in infancy

Findings from a two-year study on asthma and wheezing illness in one year olds and kindergarten children, released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, show that within the first three years of life, almost 17% of Australian infants experienced asthma or wheezing illness.

However breastfeeding within the first 12 months of life may offer a protective effect against asthma or wheezing in infancy, which increases with increasing breastfeeding duration.

Report author Professor Guy Marks, of the Australian Centre for Asthma Monitoring said, 'Asthma or wheeze in infants was more common in those whose mothers had asthma, were relatively young or smoked during pregnancy.'

The report, Asthma in Australian Children: Findings from Growing up in Australia, the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, also found that asthma or wheeze during the first three years of life was more common among boys, those who had older siblings, those who were born at an earlier gestational age, or who were admitted to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit after birth.

'There are important differences between wheezing illness in infancy and kindergarten-aged children, both in the nature of the disease and in its risk factors,' said Professor Marks.

'By the age of 5, 21% of Australian children have been diagnosed with asthma and among those who did not have asthma by age five, 4% per year were diagnosed over the next two years,' he said.

Boys were more likely than girls to first develop asthma or wheezing illness in infancy but, from age five years, new cases occurred equally in boys and girls.

The report also showed that among kindergarten-aged children, living in remote areas and having food or other allergies were risk factors for the onset of asthma-like symptoms.

Children who had asthma or wheeze in their fifth year were more likely than other children to be hospitalised, to attend an emergency department, and to visit a general practitioner more frequently over the next two years, and were also more likely to be overweight or obese two years later.

Parents of children with wheeze or asthma were more likely to report that their child had poorer health or disturbed sleeping patterns.


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