DALLAS, July 21, 2021 – Babies who were even breastfed for a few days had lower blood pressure than infants and these differences in blood pressure could translate into improved heart and fascial health as adults, according to new research published today in the Journal of the American Heart Association, an open-access journal of the American Heart Association.
Research has found that risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, can start in childhood. Studies have also confirmed breastfeeding has been associated with lower risks of cardiovascular disease in adulthood. The amount and length of time breastfeeding required to achieve cardiovascular benefit has not been clear.
“This is the first study to evaluate the association of breastfeeding in the first days of life and blood pressure in early childhood,” said lead study author Kozeta Miliku, MD, Ph.D., clinical science officer at CHILD Cohort Study and postdoctoral fellow in medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. “Babies who even received a relatively small amount of their mother’s early breast milk, also called colostrum, had lower blood pressure at 3 years of age, regardless of how long they were breastfed or when they received other complementary foods. “
Colostrum is known to be particularly rich in growth factors, immunological components and stem cells which are extremely beneficial for newborns and can only be found in human breast milk.
Researchers used data from the ongoing Canadian CHILD Cohort Study – a study of more than 3,000 children who were born between 2009-2012 and have since been followed up to understand how early life experiences shape health and development. They analyzed information on child nutrition collected from hospital registries and caregivers questionnaires for nearly 2,400 children.
Among those children, 98% were breastfed to some extent, including 4% who received “early limited breastfeeding” defined as some breastfeeding during the hospital stay. Only 2% of the children in the study were not breastfed at all.
Among children who were breastfed, 78% were breastfed for six months or longer and 62% were exclusively breastfed for at least three months. Excluding breastfeeding means only breast milk, without formula, solid foods or other liquids since birth. On average, mothers who never breastfed were younger, smoked more often during pregnancy, and less likely to have a post-secondary degree, compared with mothers who breastfed briefly or outside of their hospital stay.
At 3 years of age, the children who were never breastfed had higher blood pressure measures (mean 103/60 mm Hg), compared to those who were breastfed for each period (mean 99/58 mm Hg).
Among the infants who received only limited early breastfeeding in the hospital as newborns, blood pressure measures were also lower (average of 99/57 mm Hg) compared to those who were never breastfed (average of 103/60 mm Hg ).
Blood pressure among breastfed infants was lower, independent of their body mass index at age 3 or the social, health, or lifestyle factors of their mothers.
Blood pressure was also lower among infants who were breastfed, regardless of how long they were breastfed or when they received other supplemental feeding and food.
“The benefits of sustained and exclusive breastfeeding are well documented for a variety of health conditions, including respiratory infections and diarrheal disease in infants, and chronic conditions including asthma and obesity later in life,” said senior study author Meghan B Azad, Ph.D. , Deputy Director of the CHILD Cohort Study, University Professor of Pediatrics and Child Health at the University of Manitoba, and Research Scientist at the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. “Our study suggests that for cardiovascular outcomes such as blood pressure, even a short period of breastfeeding is beneficial. This points to colostrum as an important factor in shaping developmental processes in the newborn period. For many reasons, sustained breastfeeding should be strongly supported,” and it’s also important to understand that ‘every drop counts’, especially in those critical first few days of life. “
“Physicians and public health policy makers should consider the importance of educating new mothers about breastfeeding and offering direct postpartum lactation support,” said Azad, who co-directs the Manitoba Interdisciplinary Lactation Center. “The results of our study suggest that the short-term savings from providing breastfeeding support in the hospital and the premature discharge of mothers could be greatly overcome by the long-term costs of reduced cardiovascular health later in life.”
Researchers found that further research is warranted to examine the bioactive components of colostrum, understand how they affect cardiovascular development, and determine their long-term associations with cardiovascular health. The study has some limitations including its observational design, which means that researchers are not allowed to confirm a cause-and-effect relationship between breastfeeding and blood pressure in early life. In addition, researchers collected only one blood pressure measurement, instead of taking the average of at least two measurements, and there were only a few children who had never been breastfed, which limited comparison.
“This important study provides ongoing support for the premise that care in infants can affect their heart care. While further research is needed to account for the mechanisms of the positive impact of early breastfeeding on blood pressure in young children, the authors should be commended for their identification of an adaptable factor that has the potential to improve children’s health, “said Shelley Miyamoto, MD, FAHA, chair of the American Heart Association’s Council on Lifelong Congenital Heart Disease and Heart Health in Young (Young Hearts). ) and Jack Cooper Millisor Chair in Pediatric Heart Disease and Director of the Cardiomyopathy Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora.
Additional co-authors are Theo J. Moraes, MD, Ph.D. Allan B. Becker, MD; Piushkumar J. Mandhane, MD, Ph.D .; Malcolm R. Sears, MB, Ch.B .; Stuart E. Turvey, MBBS, Ph.D .; and Padmaja Subbarao, MD, M.Sc. Author notices appear in manuscript.
The study was funded in part by the Canada Research Chairs program. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Allergy, Genes and Environment (AllerGen) Network of Centers of Excellence (NCE) provided core funding for the CHILD Cohort Study. Please see the manuscript for other listed list.
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