According to new research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, women who breastfed their babies could have a lower future risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. The study followed nearly 300,000 women and noted that mothers who breastfed had a 10 percent lower risk of heart disease
Previous research has suggested that both mothers and babies get a variety of benefits from breastfeeding. For mothers, those health benefits include lowered blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels, as well as weight loss.
A total of 289,573 Chinese women enrolled in the China Kadoorie Biobank study were included in the research. None of the women had cardiovascular disease when they joined the study, and the vast majority of them were mothers.
Eight years after the start of the study, 16,671 women had developed coronary heart disease and 23,983 had experienced a stroke. In addition to the 9 percent lower risk of heart disease and 8 percent lower risk of stroke, women who breastfed their children for two or more years had an 18 percent decreased risk of heart disease and a 17 percent decreased risk of stroke.
The researchers noted that possible confounding factors – including smoking, obesity and diabetes – were taken into account when calculating the heart disease risk. They also said that women who chose to breastfeed may also have healthier lifestyles in general, which could also lower their risk of cardiovascular disease.
“Although we cannot establish the causal effects, the health benefits to the mother from breastfeeding may be explained by a faster ‘reset’ of the mother’s metabolism after pregnancy,” said primary study author Dr. Sanne Peters, a research fellow at the University of Oxford. “Pregnancy changes a woman’s metabolism dramatically as she stores fat to provide the energy necessary for her baby’s growth and for breastfeeding once the baby is born. Breastfeeding could eliminate the stored fat faster and more completely.”
Since the study was observational in nature and relied on women’s self-reports, the conclusions made about the results are limited. Still, the results could apply to women who breastfeed their babies around the world.
In 2016, 30 percent of women in the US breastfed their babies for an average of one year, according to the World Health Organization. In China, breastfeeding is much more widespread with 97 percent of women who participated in this study breastfeeding for an average of 12 months.
“The findings should encourage more widespread breastfeeding for the benefit of the mother as well as the child,” said senior study author Dr. Zhengming Chen, professor of epidemiology at the University of Oxford. “The study provides support for the World Health Organization’s recommendation that mothers should breastfeed their babies exclusively for their first six months of life.”