A new study has found that women who breastfeed their babies for at least six months can improve their cardiovascular and metabolic health for at least three years. Importantly, the benefits were seen in women with complicated pregnancies, too, who are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease later in life.
The health benefits breastfeeding provides to newborns are often discussed, but less is said about how breastfeeding affects moms.
Now, a new study by the University of Adelaide and Flinders University, both in South Australia, has examined the benefits that breastfeeding can bring to moms’ cardiometabolic health. Cardiometabolic diseases are a group of common but preventable conditions, including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and insulin resistance.
“Along with neurological and other health benefits for babies, the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding exclusively for up to six months, and breastfeeding over 12 months to promote a significant reduction in both chronic hypertension and diabetes in women,” said Claire Roberts, corresponding author of the study.
Study participants included 160 mom-and-baby pairs drawn from the Screening Tests to Predict Poor Outcomes of Pregnancy (STOP) study conducted between 2015 and 2017. Detailed health information and blood samples were collected from mothers during and after childbirth, including how long they breastfed their babies. Participants had a follow-up health check three years after giving birth.
The researchers found that women who breastfed for at least six months after having a child had significantly lower body mass index (BMI) and blood pressure than those who didn’t. This reduction was not affected by variables such as BMI, age and socioeconomic status in early pregnancy or prenatal smoking. Additionally, breastfeeding for at least six months was associated with higher levels of HDL-C (the ‘good’ cholesterol).
When analyzing the data relating to women who’d had at least one complication during pregnancy, including preeclampsia, gestational high blood pressure and gestational diabetes, those who’d breastfed for at least six months showed lower blood insulin and triglyceride levels and higher HDL-C. This is good news for women with complicated pregnancies, as they – and their children – are at increased risk of developing health problems, say the researchers.
“Pregnancy complications are associated with later cardiovascular disease risk and their children are also at risk of impaired metabolic health earlier in life,” Roberts said.
The researchers say that the study’s findings indicate that breastfeeding for at least six months is associated with an overall improvement in cardiovascular health. They recommend further studies using larger sample sizes, comparing women who breastfeed to those who choose not to.
The study was published in the International Breastfeeding Journal.
Source: University of Adelaide