Toddlers who were breastfed as babies, even for a few days, had lower blood pressure in a new study. The research adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting breastfeeding may help support good heart health into adulthood.
Published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the study is the first to analyze the link between breastfeeding in the first few days of life and blood pressure in early childhood.
"Infants who received even a relatively small amount of their mother's early breast milk, also known as colostrum, had lower blood pressure at 3 years of age, regardless of how long they were breastfed or when they received other complementary foods," lead study author Dr. Kozeta Miliku said in a news release. She is a postdoctoral fellow in medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Fellow study author Meghan B. Azad, an associate professor of pediatrics and child health at the University of Manitoba, said in the release that the work shows colostrum, known to boost infant immune systems, is "a key factor in shaping developmental processes during the newborn period. For many reasons, sustained breastfeeding should be strongly supported, and it is also important to understand that 'every drop counts,' especially in those critical first few days of life."
The research team analyzed infant feeding and medical data for 2,400 children enrolled in the ongoing Canadian CHILD Cohort Study. That study is following a group of children born between 2009-2012 to understand how early life experiences shape health.
This latest research showed 98% of the children were breastfed to some extent, including 62% who were exclusively breastfed for at least three months and 4% who were breastfed only during their hospital stay.
At 3 years old, the 2% who were never breastfed had higher blood pressure levels than those who were. That was true regardless of how long the toddlers breastfed, their body mass index and whether they ate any other food or nutrition. Their mothers' social, health and lifestyle factors didn't affect the difference in blood pressure levels.
"The benefits of sustained and exclusive breastfeeding are well documented for numerous health conditions, including respiratory infections and diarrheal disease during infancy, and chronic conditions, including asthma and obesity, later in life," said Azad, who also is deputy director of the CHILD Cohort Study. "Our study suggests that for cardiovascular outcomes such as blood pressure, even a brief period of breastfeeding is beneficial."
Education and support of new moms is important, she said. "Our study's results suggest the short-term savings from not providing in-hospital breastfeeding support and discharging moms too quickly could be greatly outweighed by the long-term costs from reduced cardiovascular health later in life."
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