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Breast may not necessarily be best after all

Our Western diet might modify the effects of breastfeeding.’

Recent research has shown that formula-fed children are more likely to become obese and to have higher blood pressure as teenagers

Mothers have been advised for years that breast feeding is the best thing they can do for their babies – and the longer they do it, the better. However, new research appears to indicate that breastfeeding a baby for longer than four months can cause heart disease in that child in later life. Apparently too much mother’s milk can cause hardening of the arteries in early adulthood, leading to a greater risk of cardio vascular disease.

 

The research was carried out by scientists at the Institute of Child Health who measured the degree of arterial stiffness in 331 volunteers, aged between 20 and 28. Those who had been breastfed for longer that four to six months exhibited a greater degree of arterial stiffness than people who had been bottle fed or breastfed for less than four months. While there is no hard and fast explanation as yet as to why this should be the case, scientists believe findings are based on they way the body programmes itself to handle the digestion of fat.

 

The medical profession is at pains to point out it is certainly not advocating that women should necessarily stop breastfeeding early, saying, ‘Even if prolonged breastfeeding were confirmed to have disadvantages, these would need to be carefully weighed against the advantages.’

 

Those advantages are well documented and include providing the child with antibodies against childhood infections, and other conditions such as diabetes and bowel disease.

 

One of the authors of this latest report, Professor Alan Lucas, strongly believes that our high fat Western diet also has a key role to play in the early onset of stiff arteries and is seeking to undertake further research into ‘the way our Western diet might modify the effects of breastfeeding.’

 

 Mary Newburn, Head of Policy Research at the National Childbirth Trust, welcomes the latest research and agrees that ‘there findings may tell us more about health risks of a Western high fat diet than about breastfeeding.’ She also warns mothers that feeding with formula milk carries a number of proven disadvantages, saying, ‘Recent research has shown that formula-fed children are more likely to become obese and to have higher blood pressure as teenagers. Formula milk has been linked with a higher incidence of respiratory disease, diabetes, ear infections, allergies, diarrhoea and gastroenteritis in children.’ 

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