WHO advises exclusive breastfeeding to
4 months and preferably to 6 months, but its role in the prevention of asthma and allergy remains uncertain. Breast feeding rates are lower in Ireland than in other parts of Europe. We retrospectively investigated the effect of exclusive breastfeeding and its duration on asthma and allergy in young Irish school children.
Methods: In a cross-sectional study, parents of school children aged 69 years-old completed ISAAC-based
questionnaires in 111 schools in 2007 (n = 3464). In conjunction with attaining asthma and allergy prevalence data, the questionnaires were adapted to investigate breastfeeding and several other exposures related to asthma and allergy. Logistic regression models were used to examine
associations between exclusive breast feeding and allergy.
Results: The 2007 prevalence of asthma in Irish school children aged 69 years was 20.2% (n, 699). In our study, only 28.4% of children (n = 983) were exclusively breast
fed ever and only 8.1% (n = 280) were exclusively breast fed for >16 wks. Compared to children who were never breast fed, those who were exclusively breastfed for >16 wks had reduced odds of having asthma (OR 0.62; CI, 0.430.91), adjusted for sex, maternal education, child
and parental atopy, birth order and prenatal smoking. No significant effects were seen for rhino-conjunctivitis or eczema.
Conclusions: Exclusive breastfeeding for >16 wks significantly reduced the odds of having asthma at 69 years of age. These data add weight to national initiatives to increase breastfeeding rates in Ireland.