“I may have expected a difference to be apparent just prior to or during adolescence, but the fact that these differences were seen as early as three years of age indicates that breastfeeding participates in metabolic programming that spans the life cycle,” wrote Feldman-Winter, who is a professor of pediatrics at Rowan University’s Cooper Medical School.
The study analyzed data on the length of time infants were breastfed and compared it to their blood pressure at age 3. Across the board, breastfed children had lower blood pressure regardless of the amount of time spent breastfeeding.
“We found, contrary to our expectations, it did not matter how long you were breastfed, whether it was two days, two weeks, two months or two years,” Azad said. “We saw an improvement of blood pressure profiles from any breastfeeding at all.”
A “dose response” is often seen, meaning “the longer, the better” in relation to protecting against infections and asthma, Azad said.
The official recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months, then continued with complementary foods such as infant cereals, fruits and vegetables for a year or more.
The World Health Organization recommends the same for the first six months, with continued breastfeeding and complementary foods for up to two years of age or longer.
Breastfeeding immediately after birth ‘crucial’
Previous studies attempting to examine the link between breastfeeding and children’s blood pressure have been inconsistent, likely due to varying definitions of breastfeeding, the study noted.
Researchers for the current study categorized the children based on the duration of breastfeeding in the first days of life. One such category was “early limited breastfeeding,” defined as breastfeeding that only occurred in the hospital.
Unlike previous research on the subject, Azad said the study was unique because they had this very detailed information about breastfeeding during the hospital stay after birth. This information allowed them to come to the conclusion that even breastfeeding only for the limited one to three days in the hospital is linked with lower blood pressure at age 3.