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J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2016 Feb;62(2):317-27. doi: 10.1097/MPG.0000000000000907.

Breast Milk Protects Against Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Infants at High Risk for Autism During Early Development.

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*Department of Bioengineering †Department of Psychology ‡Department of Pediatrics §Department of Human Development Program, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla ||Rady Children's Hospital, San Diego, CA ¶US Army Institute of Surgical Research, San Antonio, TX.



Parents of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) often report gastrointestinal (GI) dysfunction in their children. The objectives of the present study were to determine whether infants at high risk for developing ASD (ie, siblings of children diagnosed as having ASD) show greater prevalence of GI problems and whether this prevalence is associated with diet and age at weaning from breast milk.


Using questionnaires, diet history and GI problems were tracked prospectively and retrospectively in 57 high-risk infants and for comparison in 114 low-risk infants (infants from families without ASD history).


In low-risk infants, prevalence of GI symptoms, in aggregate, did not vary with diet or age of weaning. By contrast, high-risk infants with GI symptoms were weaned earlier than those without symptoms (P < 0.04), and high-risk infants showed greater prevalence of GI symptoms, in aggregate, on a no breast milk diet than on an exclusive breast milk diet (P < 0.017). Constipation, in particular, was more prevalent in high-risk infants compared with low-risk infants (P = 0.01), especially on a no breast milk diet (P = 0.002). High-risk infants who completed weaning earlier than 6 months showed greater prevalence of constipation (P = 0.001) and abdominal distress (P = 0.004) than those fully weaned after 6 months.


The greater prevalence of GI symptoms in high-risk infants suggests that GI dysfunction during early infant development may be a part of the ASD endophenotype. Late weaning and exclusive breast milk were associated with protection against GI symptoms in high-risk infants.

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