The food babies eat during their first days of life may have a long-term impact on their health, a new study suggests.
The results of the research show babies who are breast-fed have lower blood pressure when they are three years old compared with babies who are given formula with high amounts of protein. In addition, breast-fed babies also had slightly bigger heads than those who were fed a low-protein formula.
The study was presented May 2 at the Pediatric Academic Societies in Denver.
With headlines such as breastfeeding lowering childhood leukemia risk, cutting cardiovascular risk, reducing infant pain, protecting against allergies, reducing cancer and diabetes risk or preventing asthma and SIDS, it's obvious that a mother's milk is a miracle.
Breast milk vs. formula
Breast milk is considered the best source of nutrition for babies. Some women choose not to breast-feed, and some cannot, either because of biological problems, constraints imposed on them by their jobs, or other issues. In these cases, infants are given formula.
"We know the overwhelming benefits of breastfeeding," said Doula and breastfeeding expert, Melanie Johnson. "Mothers considering formula before their baby is 6 months of age is like putting regular gasoline instead of premium in a high-end sports car."
Brain growth in babies was recently linked to the amount of time and energy mothers 'invest', according to research. The study of 128 mammal species, including humans, shows that brain growth in babies is determined by the duration of pregnancy and how long they suckle. The Durham University research concludes that the longer the pregnancy and breastfeeding period in mammals, the bigger the baby's brain grows - possibly leading to a higher IQ.
The May 2nd study involved 234 infants who were divided into three groups. One group was exclusively breast-fed for the first four months of life. Infants in the other two groups were randomly assigned to receive either a low-protein formula (which contained 1.8 grams of protein for every 100 calories), or a high-protein formula (with 2.7 grams of protein per 100 calories.) The protein content in both formulas is within the recommended levels for children this age, the researchers said.
All infants were enrolled in the study before they were a week old.
When the infants were 15 days old, those who were breast-fed had lower levels of the hormone insulin in their blood compared with babies who were given formula. However, this difference disappeared by the time the babies were 9 months old. (Insulin is needed to help get sugar, or glucose, inside cells. When the body does not respond properly to insulin, levels of insulin and glucose can build up in the blood.)
When the kids were 3 years old, those who were fed the low-protein formula had head circumferences that were, on average, 0.2 inches (0.5 centimeter) smaller than those who were breast-fed.
Breast-fed babies also had a lower average blood pressure reading compared to those who were fed the high-protein formula (69.72 mmHg vs. 74.05 mmHg.)
"It appears that formula feeding induces differences in some hormonal profiles as well as in patterns of growth compared with breastfeeding," study researcher Dr. Guy Putet said in a statement. "The long-term consequences of such changes are not well understood in humans and may play a role in later health."
The researchers think the amount of protein in the babies' diet may play a key role in prompting these differences.
If babies cannot be breast-fed, they should be given formulas that produce a growth and hormone pattern similar to that of breast-fed infants, Putet said.
The fact is, for every study that concludes that breast milk is on a par with formula, twice as many conclude it is liquid gold. Also, mothers who breastfeed lower their risk of breast and ovarian cancers, and shed baby weight more easily.
Bottom Line: Breast-fed babies have lower blood pressure and bigger heads than babies fed a specific type of formula when the children are 3 years old.