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Cape Town – Infants exclusively breastfed for the first three months may experience lower risks of developing eczema.

Researchers have found that breastfeeding reduces the risk of atopic eczema, in a study that aimed to see whether the prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding of an infant reduced the risk of asthma and atopic eczema, and improved lung function in adolescence.

The study was carried out by researchers at the Children’s National Medical Centre in the US and studied about 2 000 pregnant women during their third trimester, as well as their breastfeeding habits during their infants’ first year.

“In this adolescent follow-up of a cluster randomised trial, there was a 54% reduction in atopic eczema on skin examination, but no significant effect on lung function (spirometry) and self-reported asthma diagnosis and symptoms of atopic eczema and wheezing in the past year,” the study said.

Milk Matters, a breast milk bank that pasteurises and distributes donations of screened breast milk from healthy donors to babies in need, said they were pleased that research continued to prove the benefits of breastfeeding.

Milk Matters dietician Carene Joubert said babies should ideally be breastfed for the first six months.

“If we interfere and start giving foreign substances, especially soon after birth, it compromises the baby’s gut integrity and they are opened up to infections. Their gut lining is poor and they need breast milk, which lines it.”

Joubert said South African mothers were good at initiating breastfeeding, but exclusively breastfeeding until six months was a problem.

“The problem comes in when the mother’s maternity leave is finished and they have to go back to work or school and stop breastfeeding. Then babies are given formula, which doesn’t really have live bacteria to help them digest it.”

She said they were trying to ensure that babies of mothers that aren’t able to breastfeed get breast milk and they receive a good number of donations.

“We do get a lot of support from communities, but we can never have enough. The more we can get, the more we can give.”

To become a donor or find out more about Milk Matters, contact: 021 659 5599/ 082 895 8004/ [email protected]

Cape Times