Breast milk can give preemies' hearts a big boost, a groundbreaking study suggests.
"This study … adds to the already known benefits of breast milk for infants born prematurely," said study leader Dr. Afif El-Khuffash, a clinical professor of pediatrics at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) University of Medicine and Health Sciences in Dublin.
He said the findings offer the first evidence of a link between early diet in preemies and heart function over the first year of life.
Because preemies' heart function is significantly lower than that of healthy full-term babies, they are more likely to develop heart problems later in life -- including heart disease, heart failure, systemic and pulmonary high blood pressure, the researchers said. They also have a higher risk of death from heart disease.
This study of 80 preterm infants found that those initially fed only their mother's breast milk had improved heart function at 1 year of age, and that it approached the level found in healthy full-term babies.
Specifically, preemies who received high amounts of mother's milk during the first weeks of life had healthier heart structures and functions and a better heart response to stress at age 1 than did preemies who were given higher amounts of formula.
These improvements were apparent before babies left the hospital and persisted up to age 1, according to findings published Aug. 30 in the journal JAMA Network Open.
"Preterm infants have abnormal heart function. However, those who are fed their mother's own milk demonstrate recovery of their heart function to levels comparable to healthy term born infants," El-Khuffash said in a college news release. "Preterm infants fed formula do not demonstrate this recovery."
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on the health issues of premature babies.
SOURCE: Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland University of Medicine and Health Sciences, news release, Aug. 30, 2021