Breastfeeding a baby can reduce the risk of cot death by a third, a new study released on Wednesday by a British charity has found.
Research released by the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID) found that breastfed babies, even those who were partly breastfed, were one-third less likely to die as a cot death than babies who were never breastfed.
The study, a meta-analysis comprising the results of 27 different studies conducted since 1965, examined the relationship between breastfeeding and cot death in the developed world.
It was made public at the start of FSID's Save a Baby month, a month-long campaign aimed at raising awareness about cot death which runs throughout May.
SIDS -- the sudden unexplained death of an infant or young child -- is the leading cause of mortality among infants aged up to a year. There are around 300 SIDS-related deaths a year in the UK.
Dr Richard Wilson, a consultant paediatrician at Kingston-on-Thames hospital in London and a trustee for the FSID described the findings as "very significant".
"Everybody knows breastfeeding is an essential life saver for babies in third world countries where there are lots of infections and a lack of sanitation, but in the developed world, we don't have these problems," he told AFP.
Until now, the role of breastfeeding as a protective factor against cot death has been unclear because there has never been a study large enough to take into account moderating factors such as class, money and social standing, Wilson explained.
"This conclusion shows that the more breastfeeding you do, the healthier the baby. Even some breastfeeding is better than none, so people only have to have a go at it."
One meta analysis which comprised the results of 23 qualitative studies found that the overall risk of SIDS was twice as great for formula-fed infants compared with their breastfed counterparts.
Natasha Larmie, a doctor and mother from Luton, some 30 miles (50 kilometres) north of London, said it was just one more piece of evidence to show breastfeeding was "much better than the alternative".
"Breastfeeding mums are a lot more sensitive to their babies needs and sleep patterns," said Larmie, who breastfed her son Isaiah for 18 months.
"As a breastfeeding mum, it just confirms what I knew was the right thing and means I certainly will be breastfeeding my next baby," she told AFP.
Experts agree that any breastfeeding, even a few days, is better than none, but most authorities including the World Health Organization, recommend babies be exclusively breastfed for at least six months, then continued, with the addition of appropriate solids, for as long as the mother and baby want.
"There are so many reasons why breast is best, but there are none that can be stronger thanpotentially saving your childs life," said FSID director Joyce Epstein. "We encourage every new mum to breastfeed."
Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID)