Babies breastfed exclusively for a sustained period from birth are half as likely to develop eczema when they reach the age of 16, a new study said Monday.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, examined more than 13,000 Belarussian teenagers enrolled in the Promotion of Breastfeeding Intervention Trial (PROBIT), the largest randomized project ever carried out on human lactation.
The PROBIT study recruited a total of 17,046 mothers and their new-born babies between June 1996 and December 1997.
Half of the maternity hospitals and pediatric clinics involved in the study were randomly assigned to receive a breastfeeding promotion intervention, while the other half continued their usual practices.
It showed that a 54 percent reduction in cases of eczema among teenagers whose mothers had received support to breastfeed exclusively.
"The WHO (World Health Organization) recommends between four and six months of exclusive breastfeeding to aid prevention of allergy and associated illness," lead author Carsten Flohr of the King's College London said in a statement.
"Our findings add further weight to the importance of campaigns like the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, which is tackling low rates of breastfeeding globally."
Eczema causes the skin to become itchy, dry, cracked, sore and red. It affects around one in 5 children and one in 10 adults in the developed world.