Breastfeeding Lowers Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke for Mothers, Study Suggests

Breastfeeding is not only beneficial for babies but it could prevent women suffering a stroke or developing heart disease in later life, scientists have concluded.

Previous studies have suggested that mothers get short-term health benefits from breastfeeding, such as weight loss and lower cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose levels after pregnancy, but there have been no research into the long-term impact.

After adjusting the results for other risk factors, including smoking, high blood pressure and physical activity, researchers at Oxford University and the Chinese Academy for Medical Sciences found mothers who breastfed their babies had a 9 per cent lower risk of heart disease and 8 per cent lower risk of stroke than mothers who never breastfed.

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And the health benefits increased the longer they had breast fed their children. Women who put off the bottle until two years old lowered their risk of heart disease by 18 per cent, and stroke 17 per cent. For every additional six months after that the risk lowered by an extra four per cent and three per cent respectively.

Researchers also say that breastfeeding may help restore a woman’s fat clearing systems after the birth.

Photo credit: Rex Features

Dr Sanne Peters, a research fellow at the University of Oxford, where the study was carried out with the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking University, said the health benefits of breastfeeding could be explained by changes to the metabolism after a baby is born:

“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,

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.”

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Although the authors cautioned that women who breastfeed may be more likely to engage in other beneficial health behaviors that lower their risk of cardiovascular disease compared to women who do not breastfeed, they said the findings provide more evidence of the long-term benefits for both mother and child.

“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,”

said Dr Zhengming Chen, Professor of Epidemiology, at Oxford University.

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The research was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Breast milk can help protect newborns against infections and diseases, and is recommended for the first six months of a baby’s life.

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