Study shows breastfeeding can reduce risk of cardiovascular disease

Turns out, the perks aren’t just for the babies

A woman breastfeeds her child. (Photo by Becerra Govea Photo from Pexels.)

Most of us have probably heard some debates about breastfeeding versus formula feeding.

It’s known that breastfeeding can be extremely beneficial to a baby, but as it turns out, it’s extremely beneficial to the mom, as well, and in many ways.

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For those who aren’t aware, studies have shown that children who have been breastfed are less likely to experience respiratory infections and are less likely to die from infectious diseases, among other things.

Studying breastfeeding effects on cardiovascular health

A recent study from the Journal of the American Heart Association shows that women who breastfed for any amount of time were less likely to develop heart disease, suffer from a stroke or die of heart disease during the 10 years that followed. And those impacts may be strengthened the longer the mother breastfeeds.

The study gathered its data from women who:

  • Were an average age of 51.3 at the time of the study.
  • Were an average age of 24.6 years old at the time they first gave birth.
  • Had an average of 2.3 births.

In addition, 82% of the women who participated in the study reported to have breastfed, doing so for an average of 15.6 months.

The study cited that there are several theories on the link between breastfeeding and cardiovascular risk.

One of those theories states that there may be a role hormones play during lactation. Along with its importance to breastfeeding, studies have found oxytocin -- a hormone that increases the contraction of the uterus during labor and stimulates the ejection of milk into the ducts of the breasts -- also has several beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system, such as blood pressure-lowering effects, antioxidant effects, inhibition of inflammation and lowering of fat mass, among other things.

Another theory states that because it is known that elevated weight is a risk factor for future cardiovascular events, and because breastfeeding can facilitate a more rapid weight loss, it may play a role in reduced cardiovascular risk.

Understanding the ‘why’

The study acknowledged that the decision to initiate breastfeeding may be affected by a slew of factors, including work situations and experiences of relatives or friends, as well as factors that include smoking, being overweight or feeling depressed.

It also cited interventions that have demonstrated to have a positive effect on breastfeeding initiation and continuation, including education and support by health systems, antenatal and postnatal support to families, and a breastfeeding‐friendly work environment, among others.

Other benefits

While cardiovascular benefits have been seen from breastfeeding, there are other health perks that the study noted, including that it isn’t just associated with lower cardiovascular risk. It is also associated with a reduced risk for maternal type 2 diabetes, ovarian cancer and breast cancer.

About the Author

Dawn Jorgenson, Graham Media Group Branded Content Managing Editor, began working with the group in April 2013. She graduated from Texas State University with a degree in electronic media.

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