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Study Ties Breast Milk To Fewer Infections

Pediatricians know that the best formula for a baby is mother’s milk. But new, carefully designed studies have suggested that breast milk is not only better but almost twice as good as formula at protecting babies from infections.

In fact, research this decade has been so convincing that the American Academy of Pediatrics was expected to release a policy statement this summer stressing that breast-feeding should be the first option for newborns, and not the alternative.

“This is the strongest thing I’ve ever seen come out of the academy,” said Dr. Marianne Neifert, a Denver pediatrician and member of the committee drafting the academy’s stance.

“It has a lot of very strong statements in it,” Neifert said. For example, she said, instead of stating something like, “Formula is the closest thing to breast milk,” the new policy will say, “Formula is a distant second.”

The doctors are motivated by newer research that does not have the complications that plagued earlier work.

The scientists’ care in dealing with all the variables in such research makes their work significant, said Laurence Grummer-Strawn of the Centers for Disease Control.

Last spring, researchers reported that babies up to 7 months old who received formula exclusively had nearly twice as many bouts of diarrhea and ear infections as the completely breast-fed babies.

Also, among babies fed both ways, those who received more breast milk had proportionately fewer infections, the scientists reported.

“Even a little breast milk helps,” Grummer-Strawn said.