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Another Reason to Breastfeed

Here's another reason why mothers should try to breastfeed their babies: It may be good for their own hearts, according to a new study.

Previous research has indicated that breastfeeding has a host of benefits for babies -- such as boosting the babies' immune systems, protecting them against infections. Studies have also found that breastfeeding is good for a woman's health. Women who have breastfed babies are less likely to get ovarian and breast cancer, for example.

Some research has also suggested that breastfeeding could reduce the risk for heart disease, but that link has been less clear. To explore further, Eleanor Bimla Schwarz of the University of Pittsburgh and her colleagues analyzed data collected from 139,681 postmenopausal women who participated in the federal goverment's Women's Health Initiative, which has produced a number of landmark findings about women's health. All the women had at least one child. It had been an average of 35 years since any of the women in the study had breastfed a baby.

The mothers who had breastfed their children were less likely to have developed high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease, the researchers found. The longer they breasted, the lower their risks. Women who had nursed babies for a total of more than a year over their lifetimes were 10 percent lesss likely to have suffered a heart attack or stroke or have developed heart disease compared to those who had never breastfed, the researchers report in the May issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. But even women who nursed for just one month seemed to benefit. That's after taking other factors into consideration, such as their socioeconomic status, lifestyle, family history and BMI.

It's unclear how breastfeeding might have this protective effect. Some research has indicated that it helps reduce the amount of fat stored in the body. But the researchers say they think it's more complicated than that. The release of hormones like oxytocin by breastfeeding may have long-lasting beneficial effects.

Obviously more research is needed to explore any link between nursing and heart health. But in the meantime, more American women are trying to breastfeed their babies -- because while incremental research continues to support its benefits, there doesn't seem to be any research showing a downside.

By Rob Stein  |  April 23, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Motherhood  
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I think you might have mentioned that while this might find an association between breast feeding and maternal health, it's not proof of a causal relationship.

Posted by: RedBird27 | April 23, 2009 8:02 AM | Report abuse

Tippy tippy tippy toe. "...why mothers should TRY [emphasis mine] to breastfeed their babies....". Huh?! We're MAMMALS. Studies show water is wet and fire is hot. Breast milk is a dynamic fluid. It is life-giving (all the nutrition a baby needs for a year at least) and life protecting (antibodies from mother's exposure to pathogens). How about we stop comparing breast milk to breast milk substitutes, and compare the substitutes to breast milk? How about ob-gyns stop giving out samples from the formula lobby? When I go to other doctors I don't get coupons for free meals. How about articles such as this one be fair and point out that over 95% of women who give birth CAN breast feed because that's what our bodies are designed to do. Those other 5%? That includes women who've had mastectomies. Even women who have never given birth can stimulate their breasts to produce milk.

I hope "The Checkup" readers are smarter than you give them credit for. "But in the meantime, more American women are trying to breastfeed their babies--..." Is it such a mystery that only the medical mafia can show a woman how to properly breast feed? Those same medical types who don't breast feed their own children (the female doctors or the wives of the male doctors) and all the nurses who don't either (yes, I doctor shop and the breastfeeding supporters are not so easy to find)?

Posted by: howdydoody1 | April 23, 2009 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Breast milk is one way to achieve an optimum Site development of children, and is recommended by pediatricians if the mother has a mastectomy or not in the habit of feeding your child is not correct, the child is much better if you get the nutrients of breast milk.
Herbal Remedies

Posted by: HerbalRemedies | April 23, 2009 7:26 PM | Report abuse

It's frustrating to listen to this debate. Not all women are able to breastfeed and they should not be punished by society or looked down on by others simply because they don't breastfeed their children. It is a choice.

Posted by: candicebennett1 | April 23, 2009 8:37 PM | Report abuse

Weight management facilitated by breastfeeding can be long lasting. We all know extra pounds can contribute to heart problems. I'm very, very happy to see this news because, like candice above, I have been affected by society's attitude towards breastfeeding. At my son's 12 month check up the young female doctor all but insisted I give up breastfeeding. At the 18 month appointment, another pediatrician warned me to stop. His comment "surely you don't have much milk left" was hilarious. So, rest assured to any mothers out there who feel they are looked down upon for NOT breastfeeding, those of us who are breastfeeding get a similar dressing down by society.

Posted by: WiscLibrarian | April 24, 2009 10:18 AM | Report abuse

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