Long-term effects of breastfeeding: a systematic review

Long-term effects of breastfeeding: a systematic review

What are the long-term effects of breastfeeding on health?

Breastfeeding has well-established short-term benefits, particularly the reduction of morbidity and
mortality due to infectious diseases in childhood. Building upon the strong evidence on the short-term effects of breastfeeding, this review addresses its long-term consequences. This document is an update of the 2007 systematic review and meta-analysis on the long-term consequences of breastfeeding. Relative to the 2007 systematic review, this analyses relyed on a considerably larger evidence base, including 60 additional studies published in the last five years.

Current evidence, mostly from high income countries, suggests that occurrence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) may be programmed by exposures occurring during gestation or in the first years of life. Early diets, including the type of milk received, is one of the key exposures that may influence the development of adult diseases.

The paper reviews the following long-term outcomes: blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, serum cholesterol, overweight and obesity, and intellectual performance. The authors conclude that:

  • breastfeeding does not seem to protect against total cholesterol levels
  • there is a small reduction in blood pressure, but the protective effect of breastfeeding,
    if any, is too small to be of public health significance
  • there was substantial protection against diabetes in the pooled analyses, with 34 percent reduction. However, few studies were available and they had conflicting results. Further studies are needed on this outcome
  • breastfeeding may provide some protection against overweight or obesity
  • there is strong evidence of a causal effect of breastfeeding on IQ, although the magnitude of this effect seems to be modest.
  1. How good is this research?

    Assessing the quality of research can be a tricky business. This blog from our editor offers some tools and tips.