Researchers found feeding a baby on only breast milk for up to six months after birth can reduce the risk of developing asthma-related symptoms in early childhood.

The study, which is published July 21, 2011 in the European Respiratory Journal, looked at the impact of the duration of breastfeeding and the introduction of alternative liquids or solids in addition to breast milk.

The results showed that children who had never been breastfed had an increased risk of wheezing, shortness of breath, dry cough and persistent phlegm during their first 4 years, compared to children who were breastfed for more than 6 months.

While previous studies have shown a similar effect between breastfeeding and asthma risk, this research is the first that showed a link between the length of breastfeeding and the number of wheezing episodes. Also, this study found evidence that the first asthma-related symptoms occur earlier in life if children were breastfed for shorter lengths of time or not exclusively.

Dr Agnes Sonnenschein-van der Voort, researcher at Generation R and lead author from the Erasmus Medical Center in The Netherlands, said: "These results support current health policy strategies that promote exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months in industrialized countries. Further studies needed to explore the protective effect of breastfeeding on the various types of asthma in later life."

Published July 21, 2011 in the European Respiratory Journal