Breastfed Kids Have Better Lungs: Good News for Moms with Asthma

by Brian M. Williams

Breastfeeding helps prevent asthmaMoms with asthma don't want their kids to share their breathing problems. They make the home allergy and asthma friendly, limit fragrances and other asthma triggers. Now, new moms have another tool to decrease the risk of their children developing asthma.

A new study published online in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine found evidence that children who were breastfeed had better lung function than those who were not, including those whose moms had asthma. Breastfeeding seemed to convey the most improvement to children whose mothers had asthma.

Breastfeeding Improves Lung Function

The new study shows contradicts previous studies that had suggested that asthmatic mothers pass on the condition through breastfeeding. Instead, breastfeeding appears to help your baby develop better lungs and significantly reduce a child's risk of developing asthma.

"This is reassuring for new mothers with asthma," said Claudia E. Kuehni, MD, MSc, professor at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Bern. "Like other mothers, they should be encouraged to breastfeed."

"Our data suggest that rather than acting by reducing respiratory infections, asthma or allergy, breastfeeding might have a direct effect on lung growth," said Kuehni. "This study supports a strong recommendation for breastfeeding in all children, including those with asthmatic mothers."

A previous study, published in the European Respiratory Journal, for instance, found that babies fed formula rather than breast milk were more likely to develop asthma-related symptoms.

Those who were never breastfed had overall increased risks of wheezing, shortness of breath, dry cough and persistent phlegm during the first four years. Babies who were formula fed rather than breastfed were 50 percent more likely to develop chronic wheezing. Supplementing breast milk with other foods during the first six months increased the risk of chronic wheezing by 20 percent, compared to exclusively breastfed babies.

Because breastfeeding provides benefits for babies that go far beyond better lung function, organizations encourage that you exclusively breastfeed your baby for the first six months.

Get Breastfeeding Off to a Good Start

Breastfeeding is natural, but your baby isn't born knowing how to do it. You might be at a disadvantage, too, if you haven't been around many breastfeeding moms. If you have, then you're fortunate to have friends that can help. Our tips can get you and baby's nursing relationship on solid ground.

Learning how to breastfeed: Your grandma and great-grandma might laugh at the idea of a breastfeeding class. They saw breastfeeding happening daily and had a good support system should a problem arise. If you are able, attend a prenatal breastfeeding class or visit a set of La Leche League meetings in your area. The more knowledge you have, the easier it can be!

Breastfeeding after birth: Place your baby to your breast as soon as possible after birth while your baby's sucking instincts are the strongest. Babies are most alert during the first hour after birth, and soon settle into a sleepy stage. If you're not able to nurse your baby right away, don't worry. You can still get breastfeeding off to a good start.

Skin-to-skin contact: Snuggling with mom (or dad) in the first weeks helps a newborn adjust to the world. Your baby's breathing and heart rate stabilize, blood oxygen levels are higher, temperature is more stable and blood sugar higher.

Latching correctly: If you're told your two-day-old baby's latch is good despite your having very sore nipples, be skeptical and ask for help from someone else. A good latch gets breast milk from breast to baby.

Rooming-in: Studies dating back to the 1930's show that rooming-in (when a newborn infant is kept in the mother's hospital room instead of in a nursery) 24 hours a day results in better breastfeeding success, less frustrated babies.

Nurse as long and as frequently as baby wants: Follow your baby's feeding cues. A baby shows hunger signs long before that first cry. Your baby's breathing might change, you'll notice wiggles and stretches, rooting or a fist heading to the mouth.

Avoid nipple confusion: While your baby learns to breastfeed, some experts recommend that you skip bottles and stick to just the breast.

Know when to ask for help: Ask a lactation consultant for help if your baby isn't latching on well, or nursing just doesn't "feel right." Here are some additional signals to be aware of:

  • Your breasts or nipples hurt, especially after the first couple of weeks. Breastfeeding isn't supposed to hurt!
  • Your baby's a few days old and not having six to eight wet diapers and several bowel movements in each day.
  • Your baby's hard to wake up for feedings and nurses less than eight time in 24 hours.
  • You're dealing with jaundice, prematurity, low weight gain, cleft lip/palate or a neurological problem.
  • You'll need to be separated from your baby
  • You have any questions or problems related to breastfeeding

What advice was the most helpful as you started off breastfeeding? What about the worst breastfeeding advice you've ever received? Sound off!

Medical sources:
- Dogaru, Cristian, et al. (February 2, 2012) "Breastfeeding and Lung Function at School-Age: Does Maternal Asthma Modify the Effect?" American Journal of Respiratory and Criticcal Care Medicine: rccm.201108-1490OC. Accessed April 25, 2012.
- L. Duijts, The Generation R Study Group. (July 20, 2011) "Duration and exclusiveness of breastfeeding and childhood asthma-related symptoms." European Respiratory Journal: erj01781-2010. Accessed April 25, 2012.