Breastfeeding for more than four months may reduce the risk of juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) in children, according to a new study.
The study, titled “Early feeding and risk of Juvenile idiopathic arthritis: a case control study in a prospective birth cohort,” was published in the Pediatric Rheumatology Online Journal.
A newborn’s first immunity comes from maternal milk, which contains several antibodies that are transferred from mother to child through breastfeeding.
“The mother’s immunological memory is transferred to her infant via breast milk, and breast milk contains a variety of immune-modulating compounds, both immune cells and their products such as cytokines,” researchers wrote. “Breastfeeding leads to immunological imprinting and programming of the infant, and thereby contributes to the maturity of the infant’s immune system.”
To study the influence of early nutrition in the development of JIA, an autoimmune disease, later in life, researchers followed children born between October 1997 and October 1999 in Southeast Sweden. When children were one year old, researchers asked their parents (10,565 families) to complete questionnaires with information on breastfeeding and introduction of foods.
In total, 32 children in the cohort had JIA and 111 children had non-chronic arthritis.
The mean duration of exclusive breastfeeding was four and a half months. Among children aged three months, 78.4 percent of the healthy children were exclusively breastfed, compared to 61.3 percent in the group who developed JIA. Indeed, the analysis revealed that children who were breastfed for less than four months had a 3.5 percent higher risk of JIA than those who were breastfed for a longer period.
Also, a total duration of breastfeeding of less than four months was significantly associated with increased risk of JIA.
No relationship was found between early nutrition and non-chronic arthritis.
Introduction of gluten in the children’s diets had no significant impact on the risk of JIA.
“[T]he conclusion of our results is that a short duration of both total and exclusive breastfeeding seems to be associated with an increased risk of JIA in an unselected population of Swedish children,” researchers wrote. “This indicates that breastfeeding might protect against development of JIA. Mothers should be encouraged to exclusively breastfeed their babies, if at all possible, for at least 4 months and continue partial breastfeeding during the time when foreign proteins are introduced via food.”