To examine the associations of duration of exclusive breastfeeding with infections in the upper respiratory (URTI), lower respiratory (LRTI), and gastrointestinal tracts (GI) in infancy.
This study was embedded in the Generation R Study, a population-based prospective cohort study from fetal life onward in the Netherlands. Rates of breastfeeding during the first 6 months (never; partial for <4 months, not thereafter; partial for 4–6 months; exclusive for 4 months, not thereafter; exclusive for 4 months, partial thereafter; and exclusive for 6 months) and doctor-attended infections in the URTI, LRTI, and GI until the age of 12 months were assessed by questionnaires and available for 4164 subjects.
Compared with never-breastfed infants, those who were breastfed exclusively until the age of 4 months and partially thereafter had lower risks of infections in the URTI, LRTI, and GI until the age of 6 months (adjusted odds ratio [aOR]: 0.65 [95% confidence interval (CI): 0.51–0.83]; aOR: 0.50 [CI: 0.32–0.79]; and aOR: 0.41 [CI: 0.26–0.64], respectively) and of LRTI infections between the ages of 7 and 12 months (aOR: 0.46 [CI: 0.31–0.69]). Similar tendencies were observed for infants who were exclusively breastfed for 6 months or longer. Partial breastfeeding, even for 6 months, did not result in significantly lower risks of these infections.
Exclusive breastfeeding until the age of 4 months and partially thereafter was associated with a significant reduction of respiratory and gastrointestinal morbidity in infants. Our findings support health-policy strategies to promote exclusive breastfeeding for at least 4 months, but preferably 6 months, in industrialized countries.