By Tom Bawden
Women who breastfeed are less likely to develop heart disease or a stroke, or die from cardiovascular disease than women who bottlefed their babies, according to a new study.
The health benefits of breastfeeding for children are well known and include a reduced risk of respiratory infections and death from infectious diseases, according to the World Health Organization.
Breastfeeding also has been linked to benefits for the mother, such as a lower risk for Type 2 diabetes, ovarian cancer and breast cancer.
Now, scientists have found that breastfeeding it good for the mother’s heart as well.
They found that women who breastfeed during their lifetime had a 11 per cent decreased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Over an average follow-up period of 10 years, women who breastfed at some time in their life were 14 per cent less likely to develop coronary heart disease, 12 per cent less likely to suffer strokes, and 17 per cent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease.
“It’s important for women to be aware of the benefits of breastfeeding for their babies’ health and also their own personal health,” said Professor Peter Willeit, at the Medical University of Innsbruck in Innsbruck, Austria.
“While the benefits of breastfeeding for infants and children are well established, mothers should be further encouraged to breastfeed their infants knowing that they are improving the health of their child and improving their own health as well,” said Shelley Miyamoto, chair of the American Heart Association’s Council on Lifelong Congenital Heart Disease and Heart Health in the Young
“It should be particularly empowering for a mother to know that by breastfeeding she is providing the optimal nutrition for her baby while simultaneously lowering her personal risk of heart disease,” she said.
The researchers reviewed health information from eight studies conducted between 1986 and 2009 in Australia, China, Norway, Japan and the US and one multinational study.
The review included health records for nearly 1.2 million women – with an average age 25 at first birth – and analysed the relationship between breastfeeding and the mother’s individual cardiovascular risk.
It is not known why breastfeeding reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
However, experts suggest it could be by helping to reset the metabolism – speeding it up again after it slowed during pregnancy to store fat to provide the energy necessary for the baby’s growth.
As a result, speeding up the metabolism – the process by which food and drink is converted to energy – would eliminate the stored fat faster and more completely, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases in later life.