It has already been very well documented that breastfeeding is amazing for both baby and mommy. The benefits are incredible for both; from providing the perfect nutrition and antibodies for your baby, to fighting infection, and creating a beautiful bond. But a recent study has found breastfeeding even benefits children all the way into adulthood. It has been shown that babies who have been breastfed for at least three months or more have lower levels of a protein that is linked to heart disease, later on in their lives.
Thomas McDade, lead author of the research study and professor of anthropology at Northwestern University says,
“This is a major public health issue. If we can raise breastfeeding rates it will pay dividends in healthcare savings in the future.”
The study, which was conducted at Northwestern University, studied approximately 7,000 adults over the course of fifteen years, comparing the C-reactive protein levels of adults with their birth weight, as well as the breastfeeding choices that their parents made for them.
Researchers found that the levels of C-reactive protein were twenty percent lower in those who had been breastfed for more than three months. Those who had been breastfed for a whole year showed that the CRP’s were thirty percent lower. Statins, which are prescription medications to lower the amount of CRP’s, only decrease the levels down to about fifteen percent. Raised CRP’s have been associated with a raised risk of heart attacks, angina, strokes, type 2 diabetes, and coronary heart disease, later on in adulthood.
Researchers believe that breastfeeding helps to shape an infant’s immune system as it develops, which can reduce low-level inflammation later in life. Professor McDade adds,
“The longer we follow this group the more we will start to see greater heart attacks and diabetes in those individuals who were not breastfed. I hope this paper will draw attention to this as an important social policy issue and help women to breastfeed their babies. It is likely that any disease that is related to being overweight or obese, and regulation of inflammation will be traced back to breastfeeding, that includes many autoimmune diseases, dementia, cancer. Many or all of these could be directly or indirectly affected by breastfeeding.”
The results of this study were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The research compared siblings that were breastfed, with those who were not, thus being able to rule out other family factors that may have possibly affected the outcome. In the United Kingdom, more than eight in ten mom’s start breastfeeding their infants. However, only one in four of those moms continue to breastfeed past six weeks.
“This study goes further by suggesting that the longer you breastfeed your baby the healthier your child will be later in life,” says Julie Ward, the Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation. She also adds “This supports current NHS guidelines, which advocate breastfeeding for the first six months before combining breast milk with more solid foods. However, parents of smaller babies and mothers unable to breastfeed should not worry about things they can’t control. By teaching children about healthy eating and making physical activity fun from a young age you can inspire healthy habits to protect their hearts as they grow up.”
Professor Mary Renfrew, who is the head of Mother and Infant Health at the University of Dundee says,
“The paper is an important step in the accumulating evidence base that there are important differences between breastfed and not. It supports the idea that breastfeeding mothers should continue feeding for longer. Breastmilk in addition to solid oDds helps to reduce inflammation as breastmilk is full of actively anti-inflammatory compounds. In the US and the UK, breastfeeding is not easy. There are strong socioeconomic reasons that for several generations, babies have been bottle-fed. We need to take the accumulating evidence base extremely seriously and take a careful, sensitive and proactive approach to help women to overcome these socioeconomic barriers.”