Are infants who are breastfed less likely to develop gastrointestinal infections than infants who are formula-fed?

Last updated: February 20, 2022
Yes. All the studies in this list that examine the question agreed on this conclusion. We identified one of these studies as a literature review, which is a type of study that reviews and often evaluates the findings of many studies on a question. This gives us more confidence that the answer is correct.
*Note that the latest study on this question is over 12 years old. A more recent study may provide a more relevant answer.
This short answer was generated by aggregating the answers that each of the studies below gave to the question (as indicated by State of K members) and adjusting for source quality and other factors. If key studies are missing or the answers attributed to individual studies are incorrect, the above answer could be wrong. For medical questions, don't rely on the information here. Consult a medical professional.
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YES ANSWERS
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Chart summary of 3 studies examining this question

All answers are assigned by State of K users. The label Couldn't Identify means that State of K was not able to determine whether a study answers the question "yes" or "no". This could be due to several factors. One possibility is that a study found some evidence to indicate that the answer to the question is "yes" and some evidence to indicate that the answer is "no". This often happens when a study uses two or more proxies to study the same phenomenon (i.e. firearm sales figures and self-reported firearm ownership rates as proxies for the prevalence of firearms) and the proxies yield different results when looking for correlations with another phenomenon (i.e. firearm-related deaths). Alternatively, the label may be applied if the phenomenon under study (i.e. whether breast milk improves cognitive function) is true for one group, but not another (i.e. true for girls, but not for boys). Yet another possibility is that a study found there was insufficient evidence to reach a conclusion regarding the question. Finally, the full text or abstract of a study may not have been written clearly or was inaccessible. This would make it difficult to determine how a study answered a question.

All labels of Literature Reviews and source quality are assigned by State of K. All labels of High Quality Source are assigned based on whether the publication in which the article appeared was ranked as Q1 by Scimago Institutions Rankings. Certain well-regarded think tanks are also given this label.

Literature Reviews
Although we recommend you consider all of the studies below, we believe the following study is a literature review, which surveys and evaluates many studies on this question:

SUMMARIES OF STUDIES
Total studies in list: 3
Sorted by publication year
1
Prolonged and Exclusive Breastfeeding Reduces the Risk of Infectious Diseases in Infancy
"WHAT'S KNOWN ON THIS SUBJECT:Exclusive breastfeeding seems to decrease the risk of infectious diseases in infancy. However, the World Health Organization has called for more research regarding the benefits for 6 months instead of 4 months of exclusive breastfeeding. WHAT THIS STUDY ADDS:Exclusive breastfeeding to the age of 6 months tended to be more protective than exclusive breastfeeding until the age of 4 months and partially thereafter. Our findings support health-policy strategies that promote exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months in industrialized countries. abstract OBJECTIVE: To examine the associations of duration of exclusive breastfeeding with infections in the upper respiratory (URTI), lower respiratory (LRTI), and gastrointestinal tracts (GI) in infancy. METHODS:This study was embedded in the Generation R Study, a population-based prospective cohort study from fetal life onward in the Netherlands. Rates of breastfeeding during the first 6 months (never; partial for Ͻ4 months, not thereafter; partial for 4 -6 months; exclusive for 4 months, not thereafter; exclusive for 4 months, partial thereafter; and exclusive for 6 months) and doctor-attended infections in the URTI, LRTI, and GI until the age of 12 months were assessed by questionnaires and available for 4164 subjects. RESULTS:Compared with never-breastfed infants, those who were breastfed exclusively until the age of 4 months and partially thereafter had lower risks of infections in the URTI, LRTI, and GI until the age of 6 months (adjusted odds ratio . Similar tendencies were observed for infants who were exclusively breastfed for 6 months or longer. Partial breastfeeding, even for 6 months, did not result in significantly lower risks of these infections. CONCLUSIONS:Exclusive breastfeeding until the age of 4 months and partially thereafter was associated with a significant reduction of respiratory and gastrointestinal morbidity in infants. Our findings support healthpolicy strategies to promote exclusive breastfeeding for at least 4 months, but preferably 6 months, in industrialized countries."
AUTHOR
Liesbeth Duijts
PUBLISHED
2010 Pediatrics
High Quality Source
Yes
Yes
2
Breast milk and the risk of opportunistic infection in infancy in industrialized and non-industrialized settings
"The purpose of this systematic review is to examine the relationship between infant feeding mode (i.e., breast-feedingversusothers) and infective illnesses in industrialized and non-industrialized countries."
AUTHOR
Patrick F. W. Chien
PUBLISHED
2002 Advances in Nutritional Research
Literature Review
Yes
Yes
3
Promotion of Breastfeeding Intervention Trial (PROBIT): a randomized trial in the Republic of Belarus
"Context: Current evidence that breastfeeding is beneficial for infant and child health is based exclusively on observational studies. Potential sources of bias in such studies have led to doubts about the magnitude of these health benefits in industrialized countries.Objective: To assess the effects of breastfeeding promotion on breastfeeding duration and exclusivity and gastrointestinal and respiratory infection and atopic eczema among infants.Design: The Promotion of Breastfeeding Intervention Trial (PROBIT), a cluster-randomized trial conducted June 1996-December 1997 with a 1-year follow-up.Setting: Thirty-one maternity hospitals and polyclinics in the Republic of Belarus.Participants: A total of 17 046 mother-infant pairs consisting of full-term singleton infants weighing at least 2500 g and their healthy mothers who intended to breastfeed, 16491 (96.7%) of which completed the entire 12 months of follow-up.Interventions: Sites were randomly assigned to receive an experimental intervention (n = 16) modeled on the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative of the World Health Organization and United Nations Children's Fund, which emphasizes health care worker assistance with initiating and maintaining breastfeeding and lactation and postnatal breastfeeding support, or a control intervention (n = 15) of continuing usual infant feeding practices and policies.Main outcome measures: Duration of any breastfeeding, prevalence of predominant and exclusive breastfeeding at 3 and 6 months of life and occurrence of 1 or more episodes of gastrointestinal tract infection, 2 or more episodes of respiratory tract infection, and atopic eczema during the first 12 months of life, compared between the intervention and control groups.Results: Infants from the intervention sites were significantly more likely than control infants to be breastfed to any degree at 12 months (19.7% vs 11.4%; adjusted odds ratio [OR], 0.47; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.32-0.69), were more likely to be exclusively breastfed at 3 months (43.3% vs 6.4%; P<.001) and at 6 months (7.9% vs 0.6%; P =.01), and had a significant reduction in the risk of 1 or more gastrointestinal tract infections (9.1% vs 13.2%; adjusted OR, 0.60; 95% CI, 0.40-0.91) and of atopic eczema (3.3% vs 6.3%; adjusted OR, 0.54; 95% CI, 0.31-0.95), but no significant reduction in respiratory tract infection (intervention group, 39.2%; control group, 39.4%; adjusted OR, 0.87; 95% CI, 0.59-1.28).Conclusions: Our experimental intervention increased the duration and degree (exclusivity) of breastfeeding and decreased the risk of gastrointestinal tract infection and atopic eczema in the first year of life. These results provide a solid scientific underpinning for future interventions to promote breastfeeding."
AUTHOR
M S Kramer
PUBLISHED
2001 JAMA
High Quality Source
Yes
Yes