Can Breastfeeding Reduce The Risk Of Heart Disease?

Can Breastfeeding Reduce The Risk Of Heart Disease?

There are many ways breastfeeding is important for a mother’s health.

This is hardly surprising given breastfeeding is a normal physiological process and when such processes are disturbed there can be increased health risks.

For example, there is strong scientific evidence that not breastfeeding increases a mother’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Can Breastfeeding Reduce The Risk Of Heart Disease?

There is also an increasing body of evidence demonstrating breastfeeding may also be important for a mother’s cardiovascular health. Breastfeeding seems to be important for helping to maintain a healthy blood pressure.

A large new study of almost 300,000 Chinese women has found breastfeeding may be important for cardiovascular health.  So what did this study find?

Breastfeeding And Heart Disease Risk Reduction

A dose response relationship between breastfeeding and heart disease risk reduction was found. In other words, a longer average duration of breastfeeding per child was associated with an even lower risk of heart disease risk.

When a dose response relationship is found in research, this can make researchers more confident in claiming the results are causal rather than just an association.

Compared with women who had never breastfed, women who had breastfed between:

  • 0 to 6 months had a 1% lower risk of heart disease
  • 6 to 12 months had a 7% lower risk of heart disease
  • 12 to 18 months had an 11% lower risk of heart disease
  • 18 to 24 months had an 18% lower risk of heart disease.

Hence, each additional six months of breastfeeding per child was associated with a 4% (2–5%) lower risk of heart disease.

Possible confounding factors such as smoking, drinking, obesity, diabetes and blood pressure, as well as income and education levels, were all taken into account by the researchers and so such factors didn’t skew the results.

So, how exactly might breastfeeding help promote cardiovascular health?

Breastfeeding Help ‘Reset’ Womens’ Bodies After Birth

During pregnancy, a woman’s metabolism changes significantly as she stores fat to provide essential energy for her developing baby and for breastfeeding once the baby is born.

Breastfeeding may help ‘reset’ her metabolism after pregnancy, helping her to get rid of the stored fat faster and more completely. It’s been hypothesised this may be a mechanism by which breastfeeding can help reduce a mother’s risk of heart disease.

Other possible ways breastfeeding might lower a mother’s risk of heart disease include breastfeeding improving how insulin works in the body and also lowering the stress response.

Breastfeeding is indeed important for many reasons. There is growing evidence breastfeeding can reduce a mother’s risk of cardiovascular disease. Given heart disease is a major cause of death, these findings may prove to be a very important public health message.

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Renee Kam is a mother of two daughters, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a physiotherapist, author of 'The Newborn Baby Manual' and an Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor. In her spare time, Renee enjoys spending time with family and friends, horse riding, running and reading.

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