Breastfeeding may provide long-term protection against childhood sleep-related breathing disorder

A childhood sleep-related breathing disorder (SRBD) is known to have negative consequences on cognitive development, behavior, quality of life and utilization of health care resources.

However, a research abstract presented at SLEEP 2007, the 21st Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS), finds that breastfeeding may provide long-term protection against the incidence or severity of a childhood SRBD.

The study, conducted by Hawley E. Montgomery-Downs, PhD, of West Virginia University, focused on the parents of those children who underwent overnight polysomnography, who filled out a brief survey about whether the child had been breast, formula or both breast and formula fed as an infant. There were 197 surveys completed. The average age of the children at the time of polysomnography was 6.7 years. Fifty-two percent of them were formula fed, 10 percent breast fed and 38 percent both breast and formula fed as infants. It was discovered that children who were breast fed for at least two months as infants had lower rates and less severe measures of an SRBD, and that breast feeding beyond two months provided additional benefits for reduced disorder severity.

"Prevention of a childhood sleep-related breathing disorder is critically important because the approximately three percent of children who are unable to breathe well while sleeping suffer from frequent sleep interruption and intermittent hypoxia that negatively impacts their cardiovascular function, cognitive development, behavior, quality of life, and utilization of healthcare resources," said Dr Montgomery-Downs. "The benefits of breast feeding in our study may be due to the protection against early viral infection that breast feeding provides, or they may be due to the healthful jaw formation that is a result of breast feeding. Investigation of these mechanisms will be the topics of future work. The current findings support another benefit of infant breast feeding."

An SRBD may be a problem in more than 10 percent of children. It occurs when the airway is partially blocked during sleep. The most common example is snoring. The most severe form of an SRBD is obstructive sleep apnea. It occurs in about one percent to two percent of children.

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