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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Babies that are breastfed may have fewer seizures after they're a year old, according to a recent study in Denmark.
And the longer babies are breastfed, the better, the researchers found. Babies who had mom's milk for more than 9 months had fewer seizures than babies who had breast milk for a shorter time, report the authors in the Journal of Pediatrics.
Past studies have shown a link between breastfeeding and risk for mental disorders later in life, such as attention deficient disorder or schizophrenia, said Dr. Michael Kramer, professor of pediatrics at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, who was not involved in the study. But this is the first time anyone's looked at a possible link between the seizure disorder epilepsy and breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding does a lot of good things, but this apparent protection against epilepsy "needs to be taken with a grain of salt, because it just hasn't been studied very much," Kramer told Reuters Health.
Epilepsy is when a person has recurrent seizures, which can vary in severity and last from a few seconds to a few minutes. The seizures stem from abnormal electrical activity in the brain, and anticonvulsant drugs are taken to reduce their frequency.
Epileptic seizures typically begin between the ages of 5 and 20, but can happen at any age. About one in 100 U.S. children and teens experience two or more seizures during childhood, but most outgrow the condition and never have any more.
To see whether breastfeeding influences a child's likelihood of ever having epilepsy, the researchers looked at the early feeding habits of almost 70,000 children in Denmark born between 1996 and 2000 and followed until 2008. They talked to the mothers, and tracked how many kids had seizures after they were a year old.
In the study, kids who had been breastfed for at least 3 months had about a one in 135 chance of developing epilepsy after they were a year old.
If they were breast-fed for at least 6 months, this chance dropped to about one in 150. Babies on breast milk for at least 9 months had about a one in 200 chance of getting the seizure disorder later.
The team also looked at whether consuming only breast milk, versus also eating some solid food, affected seizure risk. If a baby ate nothing else besides mom's milk for 4 months, it had about a one in 175 chance of having a seizure later.
The authors of the paper, from the School of Public Health at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, could not be reached by deadline.
This link between epilepsy and breast milk is not surprising, said Dr. Linda Friedman, associate professor of neuroscience at New York College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Breast milk contains a lot of nutrients required for normal brain development in babies, Friedman told Reuters Health. "It's known that malnutrition during the developmental period can lead to seizures."
These results don't necessarily mean that feeding your baby breast milk will protect against epilepsy, Friedman said, and more research is needed to explore this link.
Breastfeeding isn't as easy as many people think it is, Kramer said, but formula feeding doesn't have any known advantages over breastfeeding.
In contrast, "there are advantages, including some life and death ones, for breastfeeding," he said.
Not a lot of people worldwide meet the World Health Organization recommendations for breastfeeding, Kramer said. The WHO encourages breastfeeding exclusively for six months, then giving solid food and breast milk until the baby is 2 years old.
"The brain continues to develop for at least 16 years," Friedman said, and "the first 5 years are most important for initial brain development."
SOURCE bit.ly/eqVe9r The Journal of Pediatrics, online January 13, 2011.