According to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics, a breastfeeding program appeared to reduce the development of atopic eczema (an allergic skin response) but did not affect asthma development or lung function among children at age 16.

Many health organizations recommend exclusive breastfeeding to prevent atopic eczema and asthma but recommendations are mostly based on observational study evidence.

Researchers from King’s College London and Guy’s & St Thomas’ National Health Service (NHS) Foundation Trust studied 13,557 adolescents born 16 years prior to new mothers participating in a trial of a breastfeeding promotion in Belarusian maternity hospitals and affiliated clinics in Belarus.

The initial breastfeeding promotion intervention trial was June 1995 through 1997 and follow-up with children occurred September 2012 to July 2015. Researchers measured number of children breastfeeding, then at age 16 the adolescents were physically examined for atopic eczema, lung function (using spirometry), and self-reported atopic eczema and asthma symptoms in the past year on questionnaires.

According to results, 0.3% (21 of 7,064) of children in the breastfeeding intervention group had signs of atopic eczema when their skin was examined at the 16-year follow-up, By comparison, 0.7% (43 of 6,493) children in the control group had signs of atopic eczema. There was no significant difference in lung function or asthma diagnoses between the 2 groups.

Generalizability of the results is limited because Belarus has a highly centralized health care system, which made implementation of the breastfeeding intervention easier. Also, atopic eczema and allergic diseases overall are less common in Belarus compared to more affluent country setting, such as Western Europe or North America.

Researchers concluded that an intervention that promoted prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding of infants was associated with reduced risk of atopic eczema in adolescents but appeared to have no protective effect on lung function and asthma, researchers included.