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'Every drop counts': Manitoba research shows even a few tries at breastfeeding improves a toddlers blood pressure


A study done using data from Manitoba moms and babies is showing lower blood pressure in three-year-olds who were breastfed even only a few times.

The research, which was published in The Journal of the American Heart Association, shows breastfed toddlers, no matter the duration, had blood pressure measurements that were four points lower on average than babies who were not breastfed at all.

"Any breastfeeding at all, whether it was two days, two weeks, two months, two years we found these lower blood pressure levels at three years of age compared to babies who truly never got any breast milk," said University of Manitoba Associate Professor in Pediatrics and Child Health Meghan Azad, who is also one of the authors of this study.

The information used in this research was collected in the CHILD Cohort Study, which is a long-term study following a big group of Manitoba children.

Azad said the research team was able to use breastfeeding information from surveys done by the children’s mothers and blood pressure measurements collected at three years of age.

“We know that blood pressure tracks from early childhood into adulthood, so even though none of these three-year-olds have high blood pressure, so to speak, they do have range of blood pressure,” Azad said.

“We know that from other research that if it is on the higher end when they are young, it’s likely to stay that way and perhaps become a problem when they’re adults.”

Azad says knowing the benefits of breastfeeding could help start kids off on the right track to lead heart-healthy lives.

What was surprising to the team, Azad said, was the fact that even only a few feeds at the breast made a difference in blood pressure in the children.

In past studies looking at other health outcomes, she said that a dose response was noticed, which means the positive effects of breast feeding were more pronounced in children who were breastfed the longest.

“We thought we would find a similar pattern with blood pressure and we really did not find that,” she said. “We first thought we were seeing nothing, there’s no different in breastfeeding and blood pressure according to breastfeeding.”

But the team dug deeper into the hospital records from when the babies were born.

“We found that sometimes when we had asked the moms, ‘did you ever breastfeed?’ They might have said, ‘No I didn’t,’ but when we looked in their hospital record actually they did breastfeed maybe just for one or two days in the hospital, they gave it a try and it didn’t work out,” Azad explained.

She said that was important in defining breastfed vs. not breastfeeding at all in this study because even a little bit of breast milk in the early days, which is called colostrum, made a difference in blood pressure.

Azad suspects colostrum, aka liquid gold, is rich in nutrients and antibodies and may play a role in blood vessel growth but more research is needed to fully understand the mechanism.

“I think this is a really great message that every drop counts,” Azad said. “And even if you can breastfeed just once, just for a couple of days at the beginning that’s likely going to convey important benefits to your baby.”

Azad added this research also shows the importance of having lactation consultants accessible in-hospital for new moms who may be struggling and would benefit from having support.

A spokesperson for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) told CTV News the lactation consultant service in Winnipeg was discontinued as a standalone service in 2017.

"Mothers who choose to breastfeed still receive supports both in hospital and in the community, but that support is now provided by nurses, including on post-partum wards and by public health nurses in the community," they said in a statement.

"In addition, not all babies are born in hospital, as some are born at home or at the Birth Centre, thus important resources are also available in the community."

They said there are many supports and resources available to support breastfeeding mothers that come at no cost. They said free breastfeeding clinics have also typically been provided through the WRHA, but have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Top Stories

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