Breastfeeding mothers are up to 48 percent less at risk of suffering a stroke in later life, new research suggests.
Black women who choose to breastfeed reduce their risk of having a stroke in their 70s by 48 percent, while feeding naturally lowers the risk among white women by 21 percent, a study found.
Although unclear why this occurs, previous research suggests breastfeeding changes a woman’s metabolism, encouraging her to lose weight she gained during pregnancy. Excess weight has been linked to heart disease.
It is also unknown why breastfeeding benefits women of certain races more than others, however, the researchers believe it may come down to differences in lifestyle factors that protect against stroke, such as diet and exercise.
Lead author Dr Lisette Jacobson, from the University of Kansas, said: ‘If you are pregnant, please consider breastfeeding as part of your birthing plan and continue to breastfeed for at least six months to receive the optimal benefits for you and your infant.’
Breastfeeding mothers are up to 48 percent less at risk of suffering a stroke in later life (stock)
DOES BREASTFEEDING AFFECT WOMEN’S RISK OF CANCER?
Breastfeeding reduces a woman’s risk of breast cancer, a report suggested in August 2017.
For every five months a woman breastfeeds, her risk of developing breast cancer is lowered by two percent, a study review found.
Researchers believe breastfeeding protects women against the condition as it makes them temporarily stop getting periods, which reduces their lifetime exposure to the hormone oestrogen.
High oestrogen levels have previously been linked to developing breast cancer.
Breastfeeding may also help to remove cells with damaged DNA that may otherwise lead to tumor onset.
The researchers, from the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund, analysed 18 studies that examined breastfeeding.
Of these, 13 investigated the effects of the length of time spent lactating.
The report also found that carrying excess weight after menopause increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, yet it is protective while women are still able to conceive.
For both pre- and postmenopausal women, alcohol increases their risk of breast cancer and exercise reduces it, the report adds.
Babies who are breastfed are also less likely to gain weight in later life, the study found.
Study author Alice Bender said: ‘It isn’t always possible for moms to breastfeed but for those who can, know that breastfeeding can offer cancer protection for both the mother and the child.’
How the research was carried out
The researchers analysed 80,191 participants of the Women’s Health Initiative, which tracked the wellbeing of post-menopausal females between 1993 and 1998.
All of the participants had given birth to at least one child, with 58 percent of them having breastfed. Breastfeeding rates were determined via questionnaires.
Of those who did breastfeed, 51 percent did so for between one and six months, 22 percent for seven-to-12 months and 27 percent for 13 months or longer.
At the beginning of the study, the women had an average age of 63. They were followed for around 12 years.
During the follow-up period, 3.4 percent of the women suffered a stroke, while 1.6 percent endured such an event before the investigation began.
Stroke cases were collected via participant questionnaires and medical records.
‘Breastfeeding could protect against stroke’
Results suggest that breastfeeding reduces any woman’s stroke risk, regardless of her race, by 23 percent.
Among Hispanic women, the risk is lowered by 32 percent.
Speaking of the findings, Dr Jacobson said: ‘Some studies have reported that breastfeeding may reduce the rates of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in mothers.
‘Recent findings point to the benefits of breastfeeding on heart disease and other specific cardiovascular risk factors.’
The study did not set out to uncover how stroke risk varies between women of different races.
The scientists add other lifestyle factors may also protect females against such an event.
Dr Jacobson said: ‘Breastfeeding is only one of many factors that could potentially protect against stroke.
‘Others include getting adequate exercise, choosing healthy foods, not smoking and seeking treatment if needed to keep your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar in the normal range.’
The findings were published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.