Breast is best for mom's heart health?

March 20, 2019 Providence Health Team

Women who breastfeed may have a greater chance of long-term heart health.

More research is needed to understand why breastfeeding may boost cardiovascular health.

It helps to have normal high blood pressure during pregnancy.

You've probably heard about the many health benefits that babies get from breastfeeding. But research indicates it also has a valuable benefit for mothers' health, too. 

A recent study found that mothers who breastfeed their babies may have increased heart health compared to women who don't breastfeed. One of the more noteworthy aspects of these findings is that the cardiac benefits are long-term — the 678 women in the study were assessed an average of 11 years after they were breastfeeding. 

The women were measured in key areas for cardiovascular health: cholesterol, blood pressure, triglycerides, and the thickness and diameter of the carotid arteries, the vessels that carry blood from the heart to the brain. 

It was found that women who breastfed for at least six months — the minimum amount of time recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics — had lower levels of triglycerides, higher amounts of good HDL cholesterol and their carotid arteries were in better shape.

It's important to note, however, that women who experienced cardiovascular benefits also had normal blood pressure during pregnancy. Women with elevated blood pressure levels did not report the same benefits. These heart-healthy outcomes complement an earlier study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, which found breastfeeding can lower the risk of stroke for some postmenopausal women.

The research findings, presented at the American College of Cardiology's 67th Annual Scientific Session, also noted that, as of now, there's no specific known reason for why breastfeeding has a seemingly positive impact on heart health in mothers.

The study authors posited that it may be due to the flood of oxytocin during breastfeeding, and this hormone can help lower blood pressure. It may also be due to the fact that many breastfeeding women adhere to healthy diets, which would also be beneficial to their cardiovascular health. Or it may be that women who breastfeed have a better chance of losing their pregnancy weight more quickly, and a healthy weight is good protection against heart disease.

Whatever the reason, it's yet another incentive for women to consider breastfeeding their babies.

If you have questions related to pregnancy and parenting, download our Circle by Providence app today, where you can access a wealth of information approved by health care providers. Download Circle by Providence for iOS. Download Circle by Providence for Android.

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