Physicians have long touted the short- and long-term health benefits of breastfeeding, but a research has shown it also may reduce a woman’s risk of having a myocardial infarction or stroke later in life.
An analysis of data from 289,573 women in China found that those who breastfed their babies had about a 10% lower risk of developing heart disease or stroke.
The study, published in JAHA ( Journal of the American Heart Association ), used data from women in the China Kadoorie Biobank study who provided detailed information about their reproductive history and lifestyle.
None of the women enrolled in the study had cardiovascular disease when it began, and researchers found that after eight years of follow-up, there were 16,671 cases of coronary heart disease, which includes myocardial infarctions, and 23,983 strokes.
Because it is an observational study, relying on self-reported information, it doesn’t necessarily prove cause and effect. So, further study is needed.
But researchers say these findings should encourage more widespread breastfeeding to help both children and mother.
The health benefits to the mother from breastfeeding may be explained by a faster reset of the mother’s metabolism after pregnancy.
Pregnancy changes a woman’s metabolism dramatically as she stores fat to provide the energy necessary for child’s growth and for breastfeeding once the baby is born.
Breastfeeding could eliminate the stored fat faster and more completely.
The American Heart Association ( AHA ) recommends mothers breastfeed for one year. The Academy of Pediatrics recommends one year and thereafter for as long as mother and baby desire.
The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond.
In the United States, about 8 in 10 mothers begin breastfeeding their babies at birth, but only about half of them are still breastfeeding after six months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2016 Breastfeeding Report Card.
Less than a third, 31%, of mothers were breastfeeding at 12 months.
In China, breastfeeding patterns are reversed from what studies in Western populations show.
In the West, women who breastfeed are generally wealthier and more likely to engage in other beneficial health behaviors.
In China, poorer women from rural areas were more likely to breastfeed longer than their wealthier urban counterparts.
A quick rundown of the study results:
Breastfeeding mothers had a 9% lower risk of heart disease and an 8% lower risk of stroke, compared to women who never breastfed;
Among mothers who breastfed each baby for two years or more, heart disease risk was 18% lower and stroke risk was 17% lower than among mothers who never breastfed;
Each additional six months of breastfeeding per baby was associated with a 4% lower risk of heart disease and a 3% lower risk of stroke;
Women in the study stopped exclusive breastfeeding prematurely for several reasons, such as illness, traditions about the introduction of solid foods, the perceived insufficiency of breast milk and lack of or inadequate places to breastfeed in the workplace, particularly in urban China. ( Xagena )
Source: American Heart Association ( AHA ), 2017