WEDNESDAY, Aug. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Exclusive breast-feeding of infants for four months or longer does not protect them against developing the itchy skin disorder known as eczema in childhood, new research shows.

In exclusive breast-feeding, an infant receives only breast milk, with no additional food or drink, according to the World Health Organization. Exclusive breast-feeding up to 6 months of age is recommended by a number of agencies, including the WHO and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

But until now, little has been known about how prolonged exclusive breast-feeding affects eczema risk in children.

Researchers examined data from 51,119 children aged 8 to 12 years in 21 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America, and found that those who were exclusively breast-fed for four months or longer were as likely to develop eczema as those who were breast-fed for a shorter length of time.

The study, which was led by researchers at King's College London in the United Kingdom, is published in the current online edition of the British Journal of Dermatology.

While prolonged exclusive breast-feeding may not reduce the risk of eczema, there is no question that breast-feeding offers many other health benefits to infants, the researchers emphasized.

"It is widely accepted that breast milk is the most important and appropriate nutrition in early life. Especially in the context of developing countries it is also important to keep in mind that exclusive breast-feeding reduces the risk of gastrointestinal infections compared to mixed or bottle feeding. Our study does not change this notion," Dr. Carsten Flohr, of King's College London, said in a college news release.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about eczema in children.