A new analysis of the Women’s Health Initiative WHI study found that women who breast-fed for a year or more were less likely to develop hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, and cardiovascular disease (CVD) when postmenopausal than women who were pregnant but never breast-fed.
The study enrolled 139,000 postmenopausal women that had a history of at least one live birth. Those who reported a lifetime history of more than 12 months lactation were less likely to have diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia and CVD than women who never breast-fed. They were not, however, less likely to be obese. Those who breastfed less than one year - between 7 and 12 months - were also significantly less likely to develop CVD than those who never breast-fed.
There’s no doubt that breast-feeding derives many benefits to the child, but there is a growing body of evidence that the mother also gains greater health by breast-feeding. Cardiovascular benefits may be a result of hormonal effects on the cardiovascular profile. More research is sure to unveil reasons behind the benefits in the near future. In a nutshell, it may be of benefit to advise women who become pregnant of the potential health risks associated with not breastfeeding, and encourage they consider breastfeeding both for the health of the child and themselves.
For more information on this topic, please refer to the citation below:
Schwarz EB, Ray RM, Stuebe AM, et al. Duration of lactation and risk factors for maternal cardiovascular disease. Obstet Gynecol 2009; 113: 974-982.
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Written by Melissa Ohlson, M.S, R.D., L.D., Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation.
© 2009 Cleveland Clinic. All rights reserved. 5/09