Breastfeeding reduces women’s risk of heart disease for up to 15 years, new research suggests.
Among women who had a healthy blood pressure during their pregnancies, breastfeeding for six months or longer significantly increases their so-called ‘good cholesterol’ levels, as well as lowering their amounts of circulating fat, a study found today.
Feeding naturally also reduces the thickness of the carotid artery, the research adds. This supplies the head and neck with oxygen-rich blood, with wider diameters being associated with stroke.
Lead author Dr Malamo Countouris from the University of Pittsburgh, said: ‘The study adds to the evidence that lactation is important not just for the baby but for the mother.
‘Breastfeeding seems to be cardioprotective in these women, as evidenced by improved cholesterol and markers of subclinical cardiovascular disease.’
According to the researchers, breastfeeding stimulates the release of the hormone oxytocin, which may play a role in lowering blood pressure.
Around 80 percent of babies born in the US are breastfed to some extent. High blood pressure during pregnancy, known as pre-eclampsia, affects around three per cent of expectant mothers in the US.
Breastfeeding reduces women’s risk of heart disease up to 15 years later (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 estrogen.
High estrogen levels have previously been linked to developing breast cancer.
Breastfeeding may also help to remove cells with damaged DNA that could otherwise lead to tumor onset.
The researchers, from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) 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 the condition, 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.’
No benefit among those with high blood pressure
Speaking of the findings, Dr Countouris said: ‘There’s a lot we still don’t understand about the accumulation of cardiovascular risks in women.
‘Examining how pregnancy may increase or perhaps mitigate some of that risk can give us insights into the unique presentation and development of heart disease risk in women.’
Results further suggested no evidence of breastfeeding providing a heart-health benefit among those who had high blood pressure while pregnant.
Dr Countouris believes this may be due to the study’s size being too small.
The researchers add future studies assessing the link between breastfeeding and heart health in women should be longer than the current trial.
How the research was carried out
The researchers analysed 678 pregnant women who were recruited from 52 clinics across Michigan between 1998 and 2004.
The women were then followed in a health assessment that lasted between seven and 15 years.
During the evaluation, the women were asked how long they breastfed for during each of their pregnancies.
Their blood pressure, cholesterol and circulating fat levels were also measured, as well as the diameter and thickness of their carotid arteries.
Of the participants, 157 never breastfed, 284 breastfed for six months or less and 133 did so for at least half a year.
The women were also separated according to their blood pressure levels during pregnancy.
The findings were presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 67th Annual Scientific Session.
Breastfeeding for six months or longer significantly increases certain women’s so-called ‘good cholesterol’ levels, which could reduce their heart-attack risk (stock)
Breastfeeding reduces women’s risk of pain after a c-section
This comes after research released in June last year suggested breastfeeding reduces the discomfort of painful Caesarean sections.
Mothers who breastfeed for at least two months after a c-section are three times less likely to experience persistent pain than those who do so for a shorter period of time, the study by Our Lady of Valme hospital in Seville found.
Some 23 percent of women who breastfeed for under two months report pain at the site of their c-section versus just eight percent who do so for longer, the research adds.
Anxiety significantly increases a woman’s risk of suffering discomfort after the operation, the study also suggested.
Caesarean sections make up around 25 percent of all births in the UK and US. One in five mothers undergoing the procedure suffer pain that lasts beyond three months.