It’s hard to find someone today who doesn’t have an opinion on breastfeeding. Although it’s true that no one has the right to tell a woman what she should or shouldn’t do with her body, it’s equally important for new mothers to know all the facts before they decide whether or not to breastfeed. A new study by researchers from Northwestern University has revealed that breastfeeding may protect your child from chronic inflammation, which can lead to heart disease and metabolic problems in adulthood.

Scientists have already discovered that higher blood levels of C-reactive proteins (CRP) are a key biomarker of inflammation. These CRPs are also able to predict increased risk for cardiovascular and metabolic disease. In the study, researchers set out to discover what developmental factors influence higher levels of CRP and, consequently, increased inflammation. Researchers used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to learn the levels of CRPs in nearly 7,000 young adults aged between 24 to 32 years of age. These numbers were then linked back to the individuals’ birth weight and the period of time they were breastfed.

Results found that lower birth weights and shorter duration of breastfeeding predicted higher CRP levels in young adults. For each extra pound of birth weight, the CRP level in young adulthood was five percent lower. Also, CRP levels were 20 to 30 percent lower in young adults who were breastfed for two to 12 months as opposed to those who were never breastfed. “The findings about breastfeeding and birth weight are particularly illuminating. The rates for many adult diseases completely mirror rates of low birth weight and low breastfeeding uptake and duration,” Thomas McDade, lead author of the study explained in a recent press release.

Although the data from this study is significant in the promotion of breastfeeding in new mothers, it must be noted that there are factors that may have unfairly influenced the results. For example, there were dramatic racial, ethnic, and educational disparities. Babies born to white, Hispanic, and more educated mothers were more likely to have higher birth weight and be breastfed, the authors noted in a press release. However, the study also compared the results of siblings in an effort to further remove biases.

According to the CDC, the number of American women who choose to breastfeed their babies is rising. This is good news not only because breastfeeding can improve health in adulthood, but other studies have also shown that children who were breastfed also had social advantages later on in life. According to Dr. Alan Guttmacher, director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child and Human Development, in a press release, the study’s results “help us to understand and appreciate the importance of breastfeeding, especially for low-weight infants.” Based on these results, researchers concluded that encouraging mothers to breastfeed for longer was one way to greatly improve the general health of the adult population.

 

Source: McDade T, Metzger M, Chyu L, et al. Long-term effects of birth weight and breastfeeding duration on inflammation in early adulthood. Proceedings of the Royal Society. 2014.