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.
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