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To investigate the contributions of overall breastfeeding duration and exclusive breastfeeding in reducing the risk of hospitalisation for infectious causes, we analysed data from a three-stage survey on infant feeding practices and health outcomes in over 10 000 UK women in 2010-2011. The main outcome measures were risk of overnight hospital admission in the first 8-10 months of infancy. A graded beneficial effect was found between longer duration of any breastfeeding and hospital admission for infectious causes and for respiratory tract infections, with a significantly lower risk in infants breastfed for at least 3 months compared with those never breastfed. The effects were stronger in the subgroup who was also exclusively breastfed. For example, among infants breastfed for 3-6 months, the reduction in risk for infectious causes for those who were also exclusively breastfed for at least 6 weeks was 0.42 (95% CI: 0.22-0.81) and for those not exclusively breastfed for 6 weeks 0.79 (95% CI: 0.49-1.26). Likewise, among infants breastfed for 6 months or more, the odds ratio for those who were also exclusively breastfed for at least 6 weeks was 0.48 (95% CI: 0.32-0.72) and for those not exclusively breastfed for 6 weeks 0.72 (95% CI: 0.48-1.08). The apparent protective effect of any breastfeeding for a long duration may in part be driven by a prolonged period of exclusive breastfeeding. Exclusive breastfeeding in the initial weeks after childbirth and continuing to breastfeed (either exclusively or partially) for at least 3 months, preferably 6 months, may reduce morbidity due to infectious illness in infants.

Original publication




Journal article


Matern Child Nutr

Publication Date





breastfeeding, hospitalisation, infant feeding, infections, respiratory tract infections, Adult, Breast Feeding, Female, Gastroenteritis, Hospitalization, Humans, Incidence, Infant, Morbidity, Respiratory Tract Infections, Risk Factors, Surveys and Questionnaires, Time Factors, United Kingdom, World Health Organization, Young Adult