The physical effort of sucking milk during breastfeeding may leave babies with stronger lungs as they grow up, scientists said today.
Researchers from the University of Southampton and the College of Veterinary Medicine in Michigan State University, carried out a 10-year study of 1,456 babies from the Isle of Wight.
They found children who had been breastfed for at least four months had stronger lung function in later childhood.
A third of the children had been breastfed for at least four months, and on average, these children could blow out more air after taking a deep breath and could blow it out faster.
This happened regardless of whether their mother was asthmatic or suffered from allergies.
Writing in the journal 'Thorax', the scientists say this could be because of the effort of sucking during breastfeeding.
Dr Syed Arshad, of the University of Southampton, said: “What they are doing is very similar to the kind of exercises we suggest for pulmonary rehabilitation in older patients.
“Breastfeeding for at least four months significantly increased lung function in later childhood and this effect was in addition to the reduction in wheeze, that was observed in the Isle of Wight birth cohort, in early childhood.”
Recent research by the University of Sunderland also showed there was lower incidence of asthma in children who had been breastfed for six months or more.
Sally Rose, asthma nurse specialist at Asthma UK, said: “While some research does suggest that breastfeeding may help reduce the chance of babies developing allergic conditions such as asthma, there are other studies that contradict this.”
“Because breastfeeding provides many proven benefits for babies, current advice from the Department of Health, which Asthma UK supports, is that where possible, babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.”