Creative Commons License photo credit: littleREDelf

You breastfed your baby because it was best for the baby, right? A new study suggests that you may have done yourself one heck of a favor at the same time. The New York Times reported that a new study, which will be published in the May issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology, shows that women who breastfed children for as little as one month during the course of their lives have a reduced risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes after menopause. The benefit to mothers increased with longer lactation, with mothers who breastfed at least 12 months over the course of their lives showing the greatest amount of benefit. According to the Times report.

Women who reported a lifetime history of more than a year of breast-feeding were 20 percent less likely to have diabetes, 12 percent less likely to have hypertension, 19 percent less likely to have high cholesterol and 9 percent less likely to have had a heart attack or a stroke by the time they enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative.

According to other experts, the study doesn’t prove breastfeeding is responsible for the lower rates of diabetes, hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases. It could be that women who choose to breastfeed make healthier lifestyle choices overall. More studies would have to examine the actual mechanics and figure out how breastfeeding affects the body in such a way that it reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease in later years. One possibility: oxytocin, the hormone that helps kick off labor, is part of the breastfeeding process — it causes the milk letdown and the far less pleasant uterine contractions that often accompany breastfeeding in the early weeks. Those contractions help breastfeeding mothers recover from childbirth more quickly – and it’s possible that the oxytocin aslo helps tone the walls of blood vessels so that they are more flexible and less prone to disease in later years.

The study involved 139,681 post-menopausal women enrolled in a women’s health care study.

The published study, Duration of Lactation and Risk Factors for Maternal Cardiovascular Disease is available free online.


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