The Johns Hopkins Gazette: February 7, 2000
February 7, 2000
VOL. 29, NO. 21


Scientists Find Breastfeeding Reduces Infectious Disease Infant Mortality

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

The reported observation of mother-to-child transmission of HIV-1 through breast-feeding has resulted in policies recommending that some HIV-1-infected women avoid breast-feeding. There is debate about this among policy-makers, however, because breast-feeding protects against infectious diseases--particularly pneumonia and diarrhea--that kill over 9 million children worldwide each year. Now, an international team of researchers that includes scientists from the School of Public Health has found that breast-fed infants were six times less likely to die due to infectious diseases in the first few months compared to those who were not breast-fed. The results of the study are reported in the Feb. 5 issue of The Lancet.

The team of scientists was coordinated by the World Health Organization's Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development and the Federal University of Pelotas, Brazil.

Using data from Brazil, The Gambia, Ghana, Pakistan, Philippines and Senegal, the researchers found that breast-fed children had a lower mortality rate through the second year of life; this protection diminished, however, as the children grew older. The study also found that the infants of women with lower levels of education--that is, the women least likely to be able to afford safe breast-milk substitutes and so most likely to breast-feed--had lower rates of infectious disease mortality.

Policy concerning HIV and breast-feeding is in review in many countries, and earlier studies (Lancet 1999 Aug 7:471-6) suggest that exclusive breast-feeding may reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV-1 to a level close to non-breast-feeding. The current study should contribute to the debate on the association between breast-feeding and HIV transmission.

Further information is available on the Child Health Research Project website: