Breastfeeding is highly beneficial for the baby. However, there is also a growing body of evidence that indicates breastfeeding is beneficial to the mom, too. Lactation, for example, has been strongly linked to reduction of risks for breast and cervical cancer. This latest analysis of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) data shows that breastfeeding also reduces a woman’s risk for cardiovascular diseases (CVD) such as coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke, hyperlipidemia, and insulin-resistant diabetes at postmenopausal period. This is based on a large scale study of 139, 681 women with an average age of 63 years.
According to lead researcher Dr Eleanor Bimla Schwarz of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Healthcare, PA,
The benefits of breastfeeding were observable in any woman with at least six months’ cumulative breastfeeding time. Women with a lifetime history of 12 months or more lactation are 10% to 15% less likely to develop CVD than those who never breastfed. A previous study has shown that a lifetime breastfeeding time of two years or more significantly reduced risks for insulin-resistant diabetes (14% to 15%) and incident myocardial infarction (23%).
What is interesting is the fact that the women who breastfed did not necessarily have a lower body mass index (BMI) than non-breastfeeding women. High BMI is an indicator of excess weight or obesity and obesity is a risk factor for CVD. In this case however, weight did not seem to matter.
The cardioprotective mechanism of breastfeeding is not clearly understood. It has always been thought that breastfeeding women tend to lose pregnant fat reserves faster than non-breastfeeding women. The results here indicate that it goes far more than just losing fat reserves. It is most likely that hormonal effects also play a role, include those of the hormone oxytocin, in stabilizing cardiovascular health. Oxytocin has anti-stress, probonding effects that contribute to the well-being of the mother. The study presents some interesting insight into the protective effects of breastfeeding, not only for the baby but for the mom.
According to an editorial by Dr Edward R Newton, an OB-Gyne at East Carolina University, Greenville, NC
“The findings are dramatic and persuasive…A strong benefit of prolonged breast-feeding is still observed. It is imperative that healthcare providers and our society support and educate women concerning the maternal benefits of prolonged breast-feeding as well as the well-documented benefits of breast-feeding for the child.”
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