Does Breastfeeding Affect My Baby’s Risk for SIDS?

The physical and emotional benefits of breastfeeding are numerous. Breastfeeding provides a baby with natural immunity to infection and helps prevent gastroesophageal reflux. It’s been shown to have a correlation with higher IQ scores later in life.

But breastfeeding has another potentially life-saving advantage: it helps lower your baby’s risk for SIDS—Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

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The Research

According to the Centers for Disease Control, babies who were breastfed were not only less likely to die of SIDS, but of any cause.

In a study published by the journal Pediatrics, researchers found that babies who were breastfed for any duration had a 60% lower likelihood of being affected by SIDS. The biggest benefits, they found, came from breastfeeding exclusively; infants of mothers who did not use any formula were 73% less likely to die of SIDS.

Since doctors haven’t pinpointed exactly how and why SIDS causes babies to die, the scientific link between breastfeeding and lowered SIDS risk is unclear.

The Reasoning

Experts speculate that there may be a number of reasons for the correlation. Breastfeeding delivers antibodies called immunoglobulins to a baby, and doctors say these may help protect the infant from infection during the period when they are most susceptible to SIDS.

Another theory is that breastfed infants are more easily aroused from sleep than those who are formula fed, as the parts of their brain that control waking reflexes may be better developed.

Doctors continue to explore the link between sleep and sudden infant death.

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One common question deals with breastfeeding by mothers who are smokers or who use tobacco. Should tobacco users breastfeed their baby?

The CDC’s official position on the topic is that breastmilk is the best food for babies; mothers who smoke are still encouraged to breastfeed while aiming to quit smoking completely. Mothers and fathers who use tobacco should prevent the baby’s exposure to secondhand smoke at all times.

You can read more about smoking and how it relates to SIDS here.

Did you find this article helpful? You can find additional resources on SIDS and safe sleep practices in our Safe Sleep center. Join the conversation and share advice with other parents by joining our free Facebook community.

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