Strong cardiovascular health is yet another health benefit that comes from breastfeeding, even years after a woman stops, according to new research from the American College of Cardiology.
The research team found that if a women breastfeeds her baby for at least six months, she may benefit from better cardiovascular health for years to follow compared to women who never breastfeed. But the findings come with one catch — the results were only consistent among mothers who had normal blood pressure levels during their pregnancies. Women who had high blood pressure while pregnant did not experience any heart health benefits from breastfeeding.
“The study adds to the evidence that lactation is important not just for the baby but for the mother,” University of Pittsburgh cardiology fellow Malamo Countouris told The Independent. “Breastfeeding seems to be cardio protective in these women, as evidenced by improved cholesterol and markers of subclinical cardiovascular disease.”
Nearly 700 pregnant women were recruited for the study between 1998 and 2004 and separated into three groups: those who breastfed for at least six months, less than six months and not at all. They each agreed to have their health assessed in a follow-up appointment 11 years later, which noted their cholesterol and blood pressure levels and the thickness of their carotid arteries — which supply blood to the head and neck.
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The women who breastfed for at least six months and who had normal pressure levels during their pregnancies had thicker arteries and higher levels of HDL cholesterol — often associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease – than the other two groups of mothers.
“There’s a lot we still don’t understand about the accumulation of cardiovascular risks in women,” Countouris said, adding that more research is necessary to understand this connection.
“Examining how pregnancy may increase or perhaps mitigate some of that risk can give us insights into the unique presentation and development of heart disease risk in women.”
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