Mothers who breastfeed their babies have a lower risk of heart disease later in life, a new study suggests. The study also found that the longer the mother breastfed, the stronger the protective effect on her heart health.
The findings provide further evidence of the long-term health benefits of breastfeeding and mothers should be encouraged to breastfeed their children as much as possible, the researchers said.
Previous studies have shown that breastfeeding can reduce a woman’s risk of postpartum depression and some cancers. Breastfeeding also helps mothers maintain a healthy weight and regulate blood sugar, and these benefits may be linked to higher levels of prolactin in mothers who breastfeed.
Many studies have shown that prolactin reduces the risk of diabetes, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among women worldwide, but the long-term protection of breastfeeding against heart disease risk has not been fully studied.
To investigate, researchers at the university of Athens measured the relationship between heart and vascular health in postmenopausal women and their history of breastfeeding. After adjusting for other cardiovascular health risk factors, including weight, age, cholesterol levels and smoking habits, the results showed that women who breastfed their children had significantly lower levels of heart disease and other indicators of heart disease risk, and the effect was even more significant among women who had breastfed longer.
The researchers said the findings suggest that breastfeeding can reduce a woman’s risk of heart disease. However, this is only an association study, and if it can be shown later why breastfeeding is protective, then women will have more reasons to breastfeed their babies than just the short-term and long-term health benefits that have been shown for mothers and their children.