Breastfeeding has long been renowned for its nutrition and immune-boosting benefits, but a new wide-reaching study shows that it could be beneficial for mom and baby’s heart health too.
The research, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (AHA), included health data for nearly 1.2 million women from eight studies conducted between 1986 and 2009 in Australia, China, Norway, Japan, the US and one multinational study.
The analytics showed that women who breastfed at some point in their lives were 17 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than women who didn’t. Over a 10-year follow-up, more benefits were observed. Women who breastfed were 14 percent less likely to develop heart disease, 12 percent less likely to have strokes and 11 percent less likely to develop any cardiovascular disease.
“There have been a number of studies that show breastfeeding can reduce a woman’s risk of heart disease and stroke. People who breastfeed their babies are taking steps to improve their own heart health, as well, so it’s definitely an option to strongly consider,” Maria Avila, MD, an AHA volunteer expert, said in a release accompanying the study.
The heart-health benefits of breastfeeding also extend beyond mom to baby. Another study published by the AHA shows that babies who breastfed, even for a few days, had lower blood at 3 years of age than children who never had breast milk.
“We know that cardiovascular disease risk factors, including high blood pressure, can start in childhood, so giving a baby breast milk even for a few days in infancy is a good start to a heart-healthy life,” Avila adds.
But for many moms and birthing parents, breastfeeding isn’t possible—and Avila says that’s okay.
“Having a newborn can be a stressful time for any parent, and not being able to breastfeed your baby or having a fussy baby who doesn’t want to breastfeed could add to [that], so know you have options. The most important thing a parent can do for their child is to give them every early start at a heart-healthy life, and that can begin even before conception and with good prenatal care to help reduce their own cardiovascular risks as much as possible,” Avila says.
“Along with eating right, staying active and managing blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and other health conditions, real health includes keeping both your body and your mind fit. Make sure you practice self-care and ask for help from your partner, family or other support groups. Enjoy this special time in your family’s life because it really does go back quickly.”
Outside of staying heart-healthy, Avila recommends that parents looking to take advantage of these heart-health benefits for baby try pumping and bottle-feeding baby or using donated breast milk. Outside of breast milk, Avila recommends iron-fortified infant formula.
Whatever you choose, just remember that fed is best and only you get to decide what is right for baby. If you are interested in breastfeeding but are struggling to make it work, check out these Top 10 Solutions for Common Breastfeeding Problems.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.