The WHO recommends that all infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life.
In the UK, only a very small proportion of women (1%) currently achieve this, with only 23% still exclusively breastfeeding at 6 weeks.
While the goal of exclusively breastfeeding for 6 months remains desirable, with so few women in the UK exclusively breastfeeding for even 3 months, it is important to differentiate between the benefit of longer duration of EBF and longer duration of any breastfeeding.
In this study, we investigated the effect of breastfeeding on hospitalisation rates for infection among infants in the UK and tried to understand how the distinct components of ‘duration of breastfeeding’ and ‘duration of EBF’ contribute to any health benefits conferred.
To investigate the contributions of overall breastfeeding duration and exclusive breastfeeding in reducing the risk of hospitalisation for infectious causes, we analysed data on over 10,000 births from the UK Infant Feeding Survey from 2010.
The main outcome measures were risk of overnight hospital admission in the first 8–10 months of infancy.
- A graded beneficial effect was found between longer duration of any breastfeeding and hospital admission for infectious causes and for respiratory tract infections.
- Any breastfeeding for at least 3 months may reduce the risk of hospitalisation in infants and the population burden of hospital admission, but this risk reduction is greater with a prolonged period of initial exclusive breastfeeding
- In settings where few women exclusively breastfeed for the recommended duration, shorter durations of breastfeeding may still confer significant health benefits.