Parental Common Sense


As the parents of an asthmatic child, my husband Brian and I have become experts at what triggers our daughter SarahÕs illness. We have also become acutely aware of what helps to strengthen her immune system and hence reduce the incidence of her acute attacks. Eight years after SarahÕs initial diagnosis, two new health studies have confirmed what we have intuitively known about her asthma all along.


The first study from the Hospital for Sick Children and the Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Toronto has evaluated the association between breastfeeding and asthma in young Canadian children. The results of the study, which were published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (November 2001), are dramatic. According to the study, ŌBreastfeeding confers a protective effect against asthma and wheeze in the first two years of life, when the alveolar stage of lung development is ongoing. Furthermore, the association appears to be dose dependent – meaning that the longer a mother breast feeds, the more protection is offered to the child. This study highlights the important of promoting breastfeeding as a public health intervention.Ķ


No fooling. As an infant, Sarah spent several months in the hospital, literally fighting for every breath she took. The only time she was allowed to leave the oxygen tent that had become her home was to nurse. Even then it was necessary to hold an oxygen tube near her face or she would become oxygen starved. In order to accommodate her nursing schedule I moved into the hospital with her – a difficult and trying task when you have two young sons at home.


At one point SarahÕs pediatrician ordered me to stop breastfeeding because he was unable to determine exactly what was triggering her asthma attacks. We persevered because both my husband and I were convinced that the immunological benefits of breast milk offered Sarah the best chance for survival. We were right. Several months later, a respiratory specialist at Sick Kids told us that breastfeeding had most likely saved SarahÕs life.


WhatÕs interesting about this new study is the long-term effects that breastfeeding has on asthma. Today SarahÕs life-threatening condition has been replaced by a mild asthma that is only triggered when she has a bad cold or is exposed to air pollution.


Which leads me to the second study. Eight years and $ 18 million (U.S.) into a 10-year study, researchers have concluded that ozone, commonly known as smog, can have a dramatic effect on childhood asthma. WhatÕs interesting about this particular report  – known as the ChildrenÕs Health Study - is that it demonstrates that ozone cannot only trigger attacks in known asthmatics, it can also cause asthma.


The study followed over 3,500 children in 12 schools in Southern California over a five-year period. It shows that children who actively participate in outdoor sports in communities with higher ozone levels develop asthma at a rate three times higher than those in low ozone communities. The ChildrenÕs Health Study researchers will continue to investigate many other possible relationships between chronic exposures to air pollution and health effects over the next two years.


These studies give solid evidence that environmental factors – both positive and negative - can have a dramatic impact on the incidence and severity of asthma. More importantly, they confirm that parental observation, intuition and experience can provide valuable tools for protecting our childrenÕs health often years before the scientific community provides us with proof.


While our odyssey to protect Sarah was a very personal one, we are not alone. Parents with children who suffer from any nature of illness quickly learn what drugs work, what environments donÕt and how to mitigate circumstances to protect our children. Sadly, this anecdotal evidence is often dismissed as being unscientific. In light of these recent studies, maybe itÕs time that we acknowledged the value of good old common sense.




ŌBreastfeeding and Asthma is Young Children – Findings from a Population –Based StudyĶ, Sharon Dell, MD, Teresa To, PhD., (November 2001) can be found at the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine website at


Information about the ChildrenÕs Health Study can be found at the National Institute of Health Studies at and the California EPA site at


For more information about the benefits of breastfeeding, visit INFACT CanadaÕs website at