Issues in aging

October 2010

Clinical

The impact of breastfeeding

Translating recent evidence for practice

Volume 39, No.10, October 2010 Pages 757-760

Lisa Smithers

Ellen McIntyre

Background

Recent research is improving our understanding of how breastfeeding influences long term health and development.

Objective/s

This article summarises research published from 2004 to 2009 relating to breastfeeding of healthy full term infants to selected outcomes of public health relevance and community interest: intelligence quotient, anthropometry and cardiovascular health.

Discussion

Evidence from a large cluster randomised trial shows breastfeeding is associated with higher intelligence quotient at 6 years of age. Breastfed infants initially grow more slowly than artificially fed infants, but anthropometrical differences do not persist into childhood, suggesting other factors may have a stronger influence on anthropometry. Observational studies indicate cholesterol and blood pressure are moderately lower in adults who were breastfed in infancy, although further research is needed to confirm causality and clarify the full extent of benefit. Support of breastfeeding by general practitioners is an important health promotion strategy as even modest health benefits may have important implications at a population level.

Exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months of life and continued breastfeeding for at least 12–24 months thereafter is supported by governments, medical organisations and the World Health Organization (WHO).1,2 In developed countries, breastfeeding lowers morbidity and mortality, and contributes to reducing healthcare costs.3

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Correspondence afp@racgp.org.au

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