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SIDS prevention with breastfeeding

Pretty much everyone with small children is concerned with SIDS prevention. It’s scary. It’s largely unexplained. And it’s often the biggest fear of new parents. Since the “Back to Sleep” campaign launched in 1994, the number of babies who die from SIDS has been reduced by half. Yet, SIDS is still the leading cause of death in the United States for babies between one month and one year old. The good news? No matter how much (or how little) a mom breastfeeds her baby, she reduces the baby’s risk of SIDS.

SIDS prevention

A review of recent research looked at 18 studies on SIDS and breastfeeding and found the protection is significant. Babies who received any amount of breastmilk for any duration of time were about 60 percent less likely to die from SIDS than infants who never received any breastmilk. The risk of SIDS in exclusively breastfed babies was more than 70 percent lower.

The protective effect is strongest the longer a baby breastfeeds and if a baby is exclusively breastfed. The American Academy of Pediatrics has taken a strong stand on SIDS prevention and breastfeeding.

In 2011, it included breastfeeding in its policy on SIDS to help better educate families who are expecting a baby.

“Breastfeed your baby, if possible, at least six months, preferably for one year of life. Overwhelming research has shown that breastfeeding can greatly reduce the risk because of the increased antibodies and digestive capabilities.”

How it cuts the risk

Of course breastfeeding is merely a marker of a lifestyle associated with SIDS prevention practices. But there are many biological explanations for how breastfeeding works to prevent SIDS. Here are two commonly cited: It’s unclear exactly how breastfeeding helps prevent SIDS, but it’s probably due to a combination of factors. And it’s one more reason to feel good about breastfeeding your baby.

  • Breastfed infants may be more easily woken up from sleep than formula-fed infants. They may not get into as deep of a sleep cycle.
  • Breastfeeding gives babies antibodies that may help protect them from respiratory and gastrointestinal infections during the two- to four-month time period they are most at risk for SIDS.