Should eye care professionals promote breastfeeding?

Does breastfeeding bring potential visual benefits?

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Abstract

Eye care professionals are increasingly encouraged to provide general health advice due to increased understanding of the link between general and ocular health. Breastfeeding is known to have many benefits for children’s general health, although it is not often discussed by eye care professionals. The aim of this study was to examine the link between breastfeeding and potential visual benefits to conclude whether eye care professionals should actively recommend breastfeeding. A non-systematic literature review was conducted to present recent evidence. Searches included studies involving breastfeeding or human milk and visual outcomes. Eighteen articles were reviewed, covering six ocular conditions. There is significant evidence that breastfeeding improves development of stereopsis. Most studies on retinopathy of prematurity show that breastfeeding can reduce its severity. Most studies on diabetes show breastfeeding can reduce risk. There is inconclusive evidence on the effect of breastfeeding on visual acuity or refractive error. There is a small amount of evidence that breastfeeding could reduce allergic eye disease. Improved high-order visual functions such as stereopsis indicate the role of breastfeeding in improving visual development in early childhood. More research could be focused on the effects of breastfeeding on visual markers beyond emmetropisation and the period of visual plasticity. Reduction of retinopathy of prematurity through breastfeeding has potential to be part of a cost-effective sight-saving strategy for premature infants. Reducing the risk of diabetes has potential for reducing the burden of diabetic eye disease, although no studies have looked at diabetic retinopathy. Many visual outcomes and the role of micronutrients such as carotenoids are yet to be studied. Implementing advice on duration and exclusivity can present a challenge for professionals due to various recommendations, but breastfeeding for at least 17 weeks is unanimously accepted as important. Eye care professionals can confidently relate the benefits of breastfeeding. Moreover they can actively promote breastfeeding as the optimal nutrition for the visual development of children.

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