WASHINGTON — New research from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland University of Medicine and Health Sciences has demonstrated the beneficial effects of breast milk consumption on cardiovascular health and early cardiovascular development in premature infants.

The study “Cardiac Performance in the First Year of Age Among Preterm Infants Fed Maternal Breast Milk” is published in the journal “JAMA Network Open.”

The study of 80 preterm infants is the first of its kind to show that preterm infants with higher exposure to their mother’s milk had enhanced cardiac function at age one year, with values approaching those of healthy full-term infants.

The research was led by Professor Afif El-Khuffash, Clinical Professor of Paediatrics at RCSI and Consultant Neonatologist at the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Oxford; Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto; Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine; Washington University School of Medicine; and, Harvard Medical School.

Children and adults born preterm are at increased risk of cardiovascular disorders, including ischemic heart disease, heart failure, systemic and pulmonary hypertension, and are more likely to die as a result of cardiovascular disease.

The hearts of young people born early have unique traits such as reduced biventricular volume, shorter length, lower systolic and diastolic function, and a disproportionate increase in muscle mass.

This results in impaired heart function, which is significantly lower than healthy infants born at term. This dysfunction is detectable at hospital discharge and persists throughout their adolescence.

This study showed that exclusive breast milk consumption in the first months after birth is associated with the normalization of some of these traits.

Premature infants exposed to a high proportion of their mother’s milk during the first few weeks after delivery had greater left and right heart function and structure. There was lower lung pressure and enhanced right heart response to stress at one year of age than preterm infants who had a higher formula intake, with all measures approaching those seen in term-born healthy children.

These findings were apparent before discharge from the hospital and persisted up to a year of age (the duration of follow-up).

“This study provides the first evidence of an association between early postnatal nutrition in preterm-born infants and heart function over the first year of age, and adds to the already known benefits of breast milk for infants born prematurely,” said El-Khuffash said.

“Preterm infants have abnormal heart function. However, those fed their mother’s milk demonstrate recovery of their heart function to levels comparable to healthy term-born infants. Preterm infants fed formula do not demonstrate this recovery,” said El-Khuffash while concluding.

(With inputs from ANI)

Edited by Ojaswin Kathuria and Nikita Nikhil

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