Researchers, who looked at data from 51,119 children from 21 countries, have concluded there is no clear evidence that breastfeeding for four months or longer protects against the skin condition.
The Department of Health currently recommends prolonged breastfeeding as a means of reducing the risk of childhood eczema.
The new findings have prompted a call for breastfeeding guidelines to be reviewed with regard to eczema.
Dr Carsten Flohr, one of the researchers, said: ‘Although there was a small protective effect of breastfeeding per se on severe eczema in affluent countries, we found no evidence that exclusive breastfeeding for four months or longer protects against eczema in either developed or developing nations.
‘We feel that the UK breastfeeding guidelines with regard to eczema should therefore be reviewed.
‘Further studies are now required to explore how and when solids should be introduced alongside breastfeeding to aid protection against eczema and other allergic diseases.’
Dr Flohr added that there was no dispute about the other benefits of breastfeeding.
The data was gathered from children aged eight to 12 and was analysed in phase two of The International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood
Information on eczema, breastfeeding and time of weaning was gathered by a parental questionnaire.
Children also underwent a skin examination for eczema and skin prick testing to environmental allergens, including house dust mite.
The study was carried out by researchers from the University of Nottingham, King’s College London and the University of Ulm, Germany.
Nina Goad of the British Association of Dermatologists said: ‘The size of this study means that its findings are very significant, although the authors recognise that further studies are required.
‘Following these further studies we may need to review the UK’s advice on how long mothers should breastfeed exclusively for, and at what age we should be weaning our infants, in relation to eczema prevention.’
The research is published on the British Journal of Dermatology