Breastfeeding Protects Children Against Transient Wheezing

By Bruce Sylvester

SAN ANTONIO, TX — March 24, 2005 — Breastfeeding offers young children protection from onset of transient wheezing, researcher reported at the 61st Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

“We found that breastfeeding made it less likely that a child would have transient wheezing,” said lead investigator Michael Simon, MD, professor of pediatrics, Wayne State University School of Medicine, and staff physician, Henry Ford Medical Center, Detroit, Michigan, United States. “The implication is that if a mother chooses to breastfeed, it will result in a lesser likelihood that her child will have wheezing during early childhood.”

The investigators used The Childhood Allergy Study birth cohort as the source of data for their study. They defined transient wheezing as a history of wheezing at ages 2 and/or 4, but not at 6 years.

They tested children for presence of circulating immunoglobulin E (IgE) to dust mite, dog, cat, ragweed, and timothy grass, at ages 2, 4, and 6 years. They evaluated transient wheezing in relationship to aeroallergen-specific circulating IgE.

The evaluation also included data on skin prick test reactivity at age 6, breastfeeding (under 4 months), firstborn status, parental allergy and smoking history, household pets, gender, and daycare attendance, fever in the first year, and antibiotic use in the first 6 months of life.

Usable age-appropriate data on transient wheezing was available for 406 children. The researchers found that 19.5% had transiently wheezed. They also found that breastfeeding was protective against transient wheezing (odds ratio = 0.5, 95% Confidence Interval 0.3, 0.8).

“Neither atopy at any age nor transient atopy was associated with transient wheezing,” the authors wrote in their poster. “We confirm the previous observations of Martinez et al. that transient wheezing in young children is not associated with allergy (N Engl J Med. 1995 Jan 19;332(3):133-8).

“We document that lack of an association of transient wheezing with allergy at age 6 years is not due to loss of allergic sensitization which had been present at a younger age. Breastfeeding offers protection from transient wheezing,” they added.

Dr. Simon continued, “The most important finding was that breastfeeding was protective for transient wheezing. This was somewhat of a surprise. Breastfeeding has been found by some researchers to be protective against asthma, and in other studies it appeared not to be protective.”

William Schearer, MD, professor of pediatrics and immunology, Baylor University College of Medicine, commented on this study, ” Anytime that breastfeeding can protect children from allergic disease or immunologic disease, this is something that we need to investigate further.”

“What mothers can transmit in breast milk are special molecules that protect — among them mucosal antibodies,” Dr. Schearer explained. “Immune cells that are contained in breast milk also circulate to the gastrointestinal tract of infants, and they set up clones that can produce molecules that will protect, in the case of this study, possibly against respiratory sensitivity. So this is something that is worthy of continued exploration.”

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

[Presentation title: Relationship of Transient Wheezing in Young Children to Atopic Sensitization and Risk Factors Which Influence Atopic. Poster 922]

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