Mother of four Jacqui Soliman has spent more than four of the past six years breastfeeding. She has just stopped breastfeeding her 22-month-old daughter, Emily, and will continue to breastfeed 6.5-month-old Nathanael until he self-weens.
''I don't like to put a time limit on how long I breastfeed for,'' the 33-year-old, from Panania, said. ''But I've done a lot of research and have had very pro-breastfeeding doctors, so I know about the many health benefits associated with breastfeeding.''
As well as immunological health advantages, a review of breastfeeding research has found babies breastfed up to one-year-old and exclusively to six months had their risk of sudden and unexpected infant death more than halved.
The evidence, published in the latest edition of the Australian Breastfeeding Review has from today prompted a revision of national public health guidelines on safe sleeping to include breastfeeding. Evidence of the relationship between breastfeeding and sudden and unexpected infant death was now irrefutable, said the chairwoman of the SIDS and Kids national scientific advisory group, Jeanine Young.
''We have now reached a point where conclusive evidence from numerous studies demonstrates breast milk can reduce sudden and unexpected death in infancy,'' said Professor Young, who also authored the latest review of breastfeeding research.
It was not clear why breastfeeding was protective against death, she said.
''We think its multifactorial. We know breastfed babies tend to rouse more easily than bottle-fed babies, and because women breastfeed frequently the child is roused - and checked on - every few hours. We also know babies that aren't breastfed get more respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, which is important because about 45 per cent of babies who die suddenly are unwell in the weeks before.''
Confusion over whether breastfeeding was directly linked to reduced SIDS risk had led to the recommendation being removed from safe-sleeping guidelines in 1997, she said.
''Some people would argue it should never have been taken out of the public health guidelines.
''We're lucky to get mothers to breastfeed for even a few months these days, but longer breastfeeding is associated with greater protection.''
Professor Young said breastfeeding was independently protective against death, even when controls for other known causes such as smoking and sleep positions were allowed for.
But mothers who could not breastfeed should not feel guilty because they could still ensure the five other recommendations were followed, which included sleeping babies on their backs and maintaining a smoke-free environment.
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