Breastfeeding may reduce heart attack and stroke risk in mothers, study finds

Women who breastfed their babies for two years or more had an 18 per cent lower risk of heart disease and a 17 per cent lower risk of stroke

Katie Forster
Health Correspondent
Wednesday 21 June 2017 15:05 BST
More than 73 per cent of British mothers breastfeed their babies
More than 73 per cent of British mothers breastfeed their babies (Rex Features)

Mothers who breastfeed may reduce their risk of having a heart attack or stroke later in life, a new study has found.

Previous research has shown that breastfeeding can reduce a mother’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, and obesity – and scientists hope their new findings will encourage more women to choose breast over bottle.

Researchers from the UK and China examined health data from more than 280,000 Chinese women, nearly all of whom were mothers.

After adjusting the results for other risk factors, including smoking, high blood pressure and physical activity, they found mothers who breastfed their babies had a 9 per cent lower risk of heart disease and 8 per cent lower risk of stroke than mothers who never breastfed.

The longer each woman breastfed her baby, the more their risk of cardiovascular disease appeared to reduce.

Each additional six months of breastfeeding per baby was linked to a four per cent lower risk of heart disease and a three per cent lower risk of stroke.

And among mothers who breastfed their babies for two years or more, heart disease risk was 18 per cent lower and stroke risk was 17 per cent lower than among mothers who never breastfed.

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Sanne Peters, a research fellow at the University of Oxford, where the study was carried out with the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking University, said the health benefits of breastfeeding could be explained by changes to the metabolism after a baby is born.

“Although we cannot establish the causal effects, the health benefits to the mother from breastfeeding may be explained by a faster ”reset“ of the mother's metabolism after pregnancy,” she said.

“Pregnancy changes a woman's metabolism dramatically as she stores fat to provide the energy necessary for her baby's growth and for breastfeeding once the baby is born.

“Breastfeeding could eliminate the stored fat faster and more completely.”

More than 73 per cent of mothers breastfeed their babies, according to the NHS.

Breast milk can help protect newborns against infections and diseases, and is recommended for the first six months of a baby’s life.

”The findings should encourage more widespread breastfeeding for the benefit of the mother as well as the child,“ said Oxford professor Zhengming Chen, the study’s senior author.

None of the 289,573 Chinese women whose data was used in the study had cardiovascular disease when they enrolled in the research, but after eight years, 16,671 had coronary heart disease, which includes heart attacks, and 23,983 had suffered a stroke.

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