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Breast-feeding until 6 months should be encouraged in most cases

Breast milk is generally better for the child’s health than infant formula. Breast-feeding alone is sufficient for most infants until the age of 6 months.

Many studies have compared formula-fed babies and babies fed solely on breast milk for at least 6 months, in both high- and low-income countries.

The main advantage of breast-feeding is that it provides immunity against common infections, including in higher-income countries. Diarrhoea, respiratory infections, otitis, even ulcero-necrotic enterocolitis in premature infants, are less frequent in breast-fed infants, resulting in fewer hospitalisations, and a lower mortality rate in developing countries. Several studies reveal a lower risk of allergic reactions in childhood: asthma, eczema, allergic rhinitis, and a lower incidence of sudden infant death in breast-fed babies.

Various studies also suggest that breast milk protects against diabetes, obesity, inflammatory digestive diseases, and some cancers.

There are very few situations where breast-feeding should be avoided. Overall, breast-feeding has a beneficial effect on the infant and remains, in most cases, the food of choice, sufficient for infants up to the age of 6 months.

©Prescrire August 2009

Source: "Promouvoir un allaitement maternel, Première partie : Moins d'infections avec le lait maternel qu'avec le lait artificiel" Rev Prescrire 2008 ; 28 (297) : 510-515. "Promoting breast-feeding" Prescrire Int 2009; 18 (102): 178.

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