Breast milk proven to enhance heart performance in premature babies — RCSI research

Exclusive breast milk consumption in the first months after pre-term birth is associated with greater heart function

New research from RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences has shown the benefits of breast milk consumption for cardiovascular health and early cardiovascular development in premature infants.

Published in JAMA Network Open, the study of 80 pre-term infants is the first of its kind to show that pre-term infants with higher exposure their mother’s own 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 University of Oxford; Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto; Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine; Washington University School of Medicine; and Harvard Medical School.

The hearts of young people born early are known to 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 that of healthy infants who are born at term.

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

Professor EL-Khuffash said: “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.”

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