Premature baby girls appear to get greater benefit from breastfeeding compared than premature baby boys, according to new research.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in the United States tracked a group of premature infants in Argentina to gauge the protective effect of breastfeeding against respiratory infections in babies.
The results of their research are published in this month’s edition of Pediatrics.
They found that infant girls who were breastfed were far less likely than baby boys who were breastfed to develop serious respiratory infections requiring hospitalisation.
Previous research has shown that breastfed babies receive a range of health benefits compared to those given baby formula.
These range from combating respiratory infections, fewer ear, stomach or intestinal infections, digestive problems, skin diseases and allergies.
“There are many, many different diseases that are protected against by breast-feeding. It’s a great source of nutrition,” Dr Fernando Polack of Johns Hopkins University says.
“In the specific case of acute respiratory diseases like bronchiolitis and viral infections of the respiratory tract, it seems that there is greater benefit in girls than in boys. And that benefit is substantial.”
Bronchiolitis is an infection of the airways of the lungs seen most often in infants between about 3 and 6 months old.
The researchers studied a group of 119 high-risk infants who weighed under about 1.5 kilograms at delivery. This population is highly susceptible to these kinds of infections, Polack says.
Fifty per cent of the baby girls who were formula-fed had to be hospitalised when they experienced their first respiratory infection, compared to about 7 per cent of the girls who were breastfed, the researchers write.
There was no difference between the boys who were breastfed or formula-fed, with about 19 per cent of both groups needing hospitalisation when they got their first respiratory infection, the researchers said.
The pattern repeated throughout the first year of life and in subsequent infections, the researchers say.
Polack said there may be something in the breast milk that better activates a baby girl’s ability to cope with such infections more so than it does for a baby boy.
Article from ABC Science