London: Breastfeeding premature babies -often born with an abnormal heart - may improve their long-term cardiac structure and function, a new study has
Researchers have previously shown that, in adult life, the hearts of people who were born very preterm have smaller chambers, thicker walls and reduced function. The changes in the heart are thought to emerge in the first few months after birth.
Scientists wanted to explore whether the way the baby was fed during this time might be able to alter how the heart develops.
"We already had data on more than 900 individuals who were followed since birth as part of an earlier study, which started in 1982, on the effects of different feeding regimes in preterm infants," said Adam Lewandowski from Oxford
University in the UK.
From the original group, now in their early- to mid-twenties, 102 people took part in the study. A further 102 people of similar age who had not been born prematurely were also recruited.
The findings showed that while those who had been born early had reduced heart volumes and function compared to those born at term, the reduction was considerably less in people who had been exclusively fed on breastmilk compared to those fed only on formula milk, researchers said.
Furthermore, in those fed a combination of breastmilk and formula, the more breastmilk consumed in the diet as babies the better their heart structure and function as adults, they said.
After analysing the results to take into account other factors that might have affected heart volume and function, breastfeeding and the amount of breastmilk in the diet was still clearly associated with better heart volume and function
when compared to formula feeding.
"Even the best baby formula lacks some of the growth factors, enzymes and antibodies that breastmilk provides to developing babies," said Lewandowski.
"These results show that even in people whose premature birth has inevitably affected their development, breastfeeding may be able to improve heart development," he added.
The findings were published in the journal Pediatrics....