Breastfed Preemies May Have Healthier Hearts Later in Life

Improvements seen in cardiac function and size 20 years later
Improvements seen in cardiac function and size 20 years later

HealthDay News — Breastfeeding premature infants appears to increase the likelihood that those infants will have healthier hearts in young adulthood, according to research published online June 14 in Pediatrics.

Paul Leeson, PhD, of the Cardiovascular Clinical Research Facility at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, and colleagues followed 102 individuals born preterm in the 1980s who were part of a larger study on feeding regimens. At the time, half of that group was assigned to receive breast milk, while the other half was given formula. Ultimately, 30 were fed solely breast milk, while 16 were given "nutrient-enriched" formula only during early postnatal life. These patients were compared with another 102 individuals born full-term from the same time period. The researchers assessed cardiac morphology and function when all the participants were between 23 and 28 years old.

As expected, participants who were born prematurely had reduced heart volume and function compared with those carried to term. But those born prematurely and fed exclusively with breast milk had greater heart volume than preemies fed only formula. The impact of breast milk appeared to be incremental.

"What we have now found is that, although exclusive breast milk does not alter the wall thickness, it does mean the hearts of adults who were born preterm get closer in size to those of adults born at term and the function of their hearts is better," Leeson told HealthDay.

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