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