Feeding a newborn baby breast milk instead of formula during the first month of life improves the child’s cholesterol readings later on, a study in the May 15 Lancet suggests. The work augments previous research indicating that breast-feeding helps prevent high blood pressure and obesity, says study coauthor Atul Singhal, a pediatrician at the Institute of Child Health in London.
In the 1980s, researchers had randomly assigned a group of premature infants to receive either formula or donated breast milk as supplements to, or replacements for, their mothers’ milk. The feedings lasted for the 4 weeks or so that each preemie was hospitalized immediately after birth. Singhal and his colleagues located 130 of the children at ages 13 to 16 and obtained blood samples. About equal numbers had been in the formula group and the breast-milk group.
The children who had received only breast milk had healthier cholesterol readings than children who had an inhospital diet that was completely or partly formula.
Many infants getting formula also received some of their mother’s milk. This may have reduced the cholesterol disparity between the groups. The difference is likely to be larger when comparing formula-only children with those getting just breast milk, Singhal says.