Breast Milk can Improve Infant’s Heart Function 😃

Key Highlights

  • Children and adults who are born preterm are at increased risk of cardiovascular disorders.
  • Premature infants exclusively need mothers’ milk specially for their heart function.
  • A new study finds, mother’s own breast milk can improve infant’s heart function.

Premature babies are more likely to have chronic heart disease than full-term infants. [1]

Some of them are also at risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). [1]

But nutrition researchers found good news for us. 😃

A new study shows us that breast milk consumption in the first months after birth can enhance heart function. [2]

Interesting right? 😄

Let’s dig deep into it. 🧐

Table of Contents

The Study Process

The research was led by Professor Afif EL-Khuffash, Clinical Professor of Paediatrics at RCSI and Consultant Neonatologist at the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, in collaboration with researchers at University of Oxford; Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto; Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine; Washington University School of Medicine; and, Harvard Medical School.

For this study, researchers selected 80 preterm infants. 👶

They periodically test their heart performance before discharge from the hospital and persist up to a year of age (the duration of follow up).

Doctor, Baby's Heart, Breast Milk can Improve Infant's Heart Function,
Premature infants are vulnerable to heart dysfunction.

Quick overview of Premature Infant’s Heart

Children and adults who are born preterm are at increased risk of cardiovascular disorders, including ischemic heart disease, heart failure, systemic and pulmonary hypertension, and are more likely to die as a result of cardiovascular disease. 

The hearts of young people born early are known to have unique traits such as reduced biventricular volume, shorter length, lower systolic and diastolic function and a disproportionate increase in muscle mass. 

This results in impaired heart function, which is significantly lower than that of healthy infants who are born at term. 

This dysfunction is detectable at hospital discharge and persists throughout their adolescence.

The Result of this Study

This study was published in JAMA Network Open. [3]

After analyzing the data of 80 premature infants, researchers found that breast milk consumption in the first months after birth can enhance heart function.

They found that preterm infants with higher exposure to their mother’s own milk during the first few weeks after delivery, showed enhanced cardiac function at age one year, with values similar to healthy full-term infants.

But similar intake of infant formula does not show any improvement. 😮

Smiling baby, Stethoscope,
Mother’s own breast milk can improve infant’s heart function.

Researchers Note

Professor EL-Khuffash, study lead said: “This study provides the first evidence of an association between early postnatal nutrition in preterm-born infants and heart function over the first year of age, and adds to the already known benefits of breast milk for infants born prematurely.”

“Preterm infants have abnormal heart function. However, those who are fed their mother’s own milk demonstrate recovery of their heart function to levels comparable to healthy term born infants. Preterm infants fed formula do not demonstrate this recovery.”

How Breast Milk Can Improve Infant’s Heart Function?

According to this study, mother’s own milk consumption may play a dynamic modulator role on cardiac mechanics in preterm-born infants and help in normalization of the preterm cardiac phenotype.

Premature infants exposed to a high proportion of their mother’s own milk during the first few weeks after delivery had greater left and right heart function and structure with lower lung pressures and enhanced right heart response to stress at one year of age compared to preterm infants who had a higher intake of formula, with all measures approaching those seen in term-born healthy children.

Baby, Heart, Breast Milk can Improve Infant's Heart Function,
You must only breastfeed mother’s own breastmilk for the first 6 months.

My Opinion

Now, what does this finding mean to you?

WHO and UNICEF recommend that children initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth and be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life – meaning no other foods or liquids are provided, including water. [4

Infants should be breastfed on demand – that is as often as the child wants, day and night. No bottles, teats or pacifiers should be used. 🤱

From the age of 6 months, children should begin eating safe and adequate complementary foods while continuing to breastfeed for up to 2 years and beyond.

The Final Word

Breastfeeding is the ideal food for infants and is one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival. [4]

This study adds another proof of it.

You should avoid any breast-milk substitutes for your baby’s healthy future. 👶


This article is written by a certified nutritionist and verified by scientific evidence. ☑️

We rely on reputed and specialized media sites, academic research institutions, peer-reviewed studies, government agencies, and medical associations to source information. 📰

We avoid using tertiary references. Know more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy. 🧐

Following are the references of this article. 

  1. Mayo Clinic: Premature birth. Accessed 3 September 2021.
  2. Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland: Breast milk proven to enhance heart performance in premature babies. Accessed 3 September 2021.
  3. JAMA Network Open: Cardiac Performance in the First Year of Age Among Preterm Infants Fed Maternal Breast Milk. Accessed 3 September 2021.
  4. World Health Organization (WHO): Breastfeeding. Accessed 3 September 2021.

A. R. Choudhury is a IGNOU certified nutritionist in India with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Biochemistry. He also has considerable research experience and additional certificates in nutrition. 👍  Abdur started NutritionCrown in 2020 to organize nutrition information under one umbrella. ☂️  He is passionate about empowering people to make well-informed food choices to support their health. Abdur currently lives in India and keeps fit by weight training and eating mainly home-cooked meals. 💪 🥗