Breastfeeding Lowers Infant’s Risk of Developing Bowel Disease Later, Study Reports

Breastfeeding Lowers Infant’s Risk of Developing Bowel Disease Later, Study Reports

People who were breastfed are at lower risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease than those who weren’t, Massachusetts General Hospital researchers reported.

The team said the protective effects applied to people across the globe.

Their work, based on an analysis of previously published studies, supported research suggesting that breastfeeding helps ward off bowel disease. Some studies have contradicted this notion.

The Boston researchers reviewed 35 studies involving 15,000 patients that looked at the link between breastfeeding and bowel disease between 1961 and 2016. The team’s work, published in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeuticswas titled “Systematic review with meta-analysis: breastfeeding and the risk of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.”

Only two of the studies followed participants over time. The others involved a case-control approach. This involves comparing rates of disease between people who report they were breastfed with rates of those who said they were not.

The research included children and adults with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Half the studies were from Europe, with studies from North America and the Asia-Pacific region making up about a fourth of the total each.

Participants included 7,536 people with Crohn’s disease, 7,353 with ulcerative colitis, and 330,222 controls.

The Massachusetts General researchers found that being breastfed reduced the risk of developing a bowel disease by 26 percent. Looking at the conditions separately, breastfeeding reduced the risk of ulcerative colitis by 22 percent and of Crohn’s by 29 percent.

Another finding was that the risk of a non-breastfed person developing a bowel disease as an adult was the same as it was of them developing it as a child. The different breastfeeding methods used in the studies did not appear to influence the result, the researchers added.

Although breastfeeding lowered the risk of developing a bowel disease in all populations, people from Asia appeared to benefit most, the team said. Asians were at 69 percent less risk of developing Crohn’s if they had been breastfed. Their risk of ulcerative colitis was also lower.

The longer a child was breastfed, the more protective the effect, the analysis showed. The risk of a person developing Crohn’s disease was 38 percent less after three months of breastfeeding than a non-breastfeeder. The risk was 80 percent lower when a person was breastfed for a year.

Similar numbers applied to the risk of developing ulcerative colitis. After 12 months of breastfeeding, the risk dropped by 79 percent, compared with 37 percent after three months.

Researchers acknowledged that the study had limitations. To start with, results of the individual studies varied widely. Another glitch was that studies relied on people remembering how long they were breastfed — a well-known source of error.

Moreover, most participants were Caucasian. There were five studies of Asians and one of Hispanics.

Nonetheless, the researchers argued that their study provided enough evidence to recommend breastfeeding as a way of reducing infants’ risk of developing a bowel disease later.

2 comments

  1. annon says:

    I honestly wonder how this can be stated given that most parents of children with IBD have breast fed their babies. Still, our children are diagnosed with early onset. Where is the data on that? As a parent of an IBDer, I find it disgusting that these studies are put out there. My fellow IBD parents are people that have done everything right to help our kids be healthy both prior to diagnosis and post diagnosis. We would do anything for a cure. SHAME ON YOU FOR BLAMING THE PARENTS!!!!

    • Anon Anon says:

      There’s no shaming of parents here…it’s simply reporting the researchers’ findings, and is a summation of 35 studies worldwide involving 15,000 patients – that’s pretty significant! Should the researchers not be allowed to publish their findings? Nothing completely eradicates the risk of IBD, but breastfeeding has been found to REDUCE that risk. The findings show that breastfeeding will stop some kids from developing IBD, but other kids who were breastfed will sadly still go on to develop it. I’m one of them: I developed Crohn’s myself in 1989, when I was 12, whereas my brother is perfectly healthy. I lost 70cm of my jejunum at 18 and I had my colon, rectum and anus removed at 33. I now have a stoma for life. There’s nobody to blame (certainly not my parents); it’s unfortunately just the way it goes. It’s important that more research into Crohn’s and colitis is carried out and that we encourage this research, so that we learn of further ways to reduce the risk and, hopefully, find a cure.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *