Babies who are breastfed exclusively could have a lower risk of developing eczema in their teenage years, according to new research.

Individuals who are breastfed as babies exclusively from birth for a sustained period have a lower risk of developing eczema in their teenage years, according to a new international study.  

Carried out by researchers from King's College London, Harvard University, University of Bristol and McGill University, together the team looked at 13,557 teenagers in Belarus who were enrolled in the PROmotion of Breastfeeding Intervention Trial (PROBIT) in a follow-up study.

The PROBIT study originally recruited a total of 17,046 mothers and their newborn babies between June 1996 and December 1997. 

Half of the maternity hospitals and pediatric clinics involved in the study provided additional breastfeeding support to the mothers modeled on the recommendations of the WHO and United Nations Children's Fund's BFHI.

The other half of the hospitals and clinics continued their usual breastfeeding practices.

The team found that babies of the mothers who had received support to breastfeed exclusively for a sustained period from birth showed a 54 per cent lower risk of eczema at the age of 16.

The study also looked at a possible link between breastfeeding and the risk of asthma, however found virtually no difference in risk between the two groups, with 1.5 per cent of the breastfeeding intervention group reporting asthma symptoms compared with 1.7 per cent of those in the control group.

Commenting on the findings, the paper's lead author, Dr. Carsten Flohr said, ‘The WHO recommends between four and six months of exclusive breastfeeding to aid prevention of allergy and associated illnesses. Our findings add further weight to the importance of campaigns like the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), which is tackling low rates of breastfeeding globally."

Eczema causes the skin to become itchy, dry, cracked, sore and red and affects around one in 5 children and one in 10 adults in the developed world. 

The results can be found published online in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.