Protection from both strokes and heart attacks – two of the most prevalent causes of death among women – may last a lot longer than previously thought for mothers who breastfeed their babies, a report from the American Heart Association (AHA) said.
In a study of nearly 300,000 Chinese women conducted by Oxford University, researchers found a 9 percent drop in heart attack risk among mothers who breastfed their children; for strokes, the risk was 8 percent less, the AHA release said. The benefits almost doubled among mothers who breastfed at least two years, reducing the likelihood for heart attacks and strokes by 18 percent and 17 percent, respectively.
Despite the correlation, scientists are still uncertain about why or how breastfeeding protects mothers’ cardiovascular systems, and one theory suggests excess fat stored during pregnancy is cut by breastfeeding.
“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,” Sanne Peters, a research fellow at Oxford University who co-authored the study, said in the release.
Based on this research, as well as a U.S. Nurses’ Health Study that found two years of breastfeeding provides women with cardiovascular protection, the AHA recommends new mothers breastfeed for a year – twice as long as the current norm, the release said.
“The findings should encourage more widespread breastfeeding for the benefit of the mother as well as the child,” Zhengming Chen, an epidemiology professor at the University of Oxford, said in the release.