Monday 18 June 2018

Breastfeeding might offer long-term benefits to mothers' heart health, study suggests

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Olivia Petter

From reducing a mother’s risk of developing ovarian cancer to increasing a child’s appetite for vegetables, previous research suggests breastfeeding offers both mother and child a myriad of health benefits.

Now, researchers at the American College of Cardiology have found that women who breastfeed their babies for at least six months may benefit from better cardiovascular health years later in comparison to those who never breastfed their babies.

However, the benefits were only apparent in mothers who had normal blood pressure during pregnancy; those who suffered from high blood pressure while pregnant did not see any significant improvements.

Presenting their findings at the American College of Cardiology's 67th Annual Scientific Session, this is the first study to assess how breastfeeding impacts heart health years after women have had children.

"The study adds to the evidence that lactation is important not just for the baby but for the mother," said lead author Malamo Countouris, cardiology fellow at the University of Pittsburgh.

"Breastfeeding seems to be cardioprotective in these women, as evidenced by improved cholesterol and markers of subclinical cardiovascular disease."

Countouris and her team recruited 678 female participants for the study between 1998 and 2004, all of whom were pregnant at the time.

Their health was assessed in a follow-up appointment, which took place for every participant an average of 11 years later, where researchers measured their cholesterol and blood pressure levels in addition to examining the thickness of their carotid arteries, which supply blood to the head and neck.

The women were separated into three groups: those who breastfed for six months or more, those who breastfed for less than six months and those who didn’t breastfeed at all during their pregnancy.

Those who had normal blood pressure while pregnant and breastfed for six months or longer boasted higher levels of HDL cholesterol and healthier carotid artery thickness in comparison to those who hadn’t breastfed their babies.

The results suggest that these women had reduced their risk of heart disease by breastfeeding, the researchers said.

However, Countouris added that further research is necessary in order to fully understand how pregnancy impacts cardiovascular health.

"There's a lot we still don't understand about the accumulation of cardiovascular risks in women," she said.

"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."

In addition to cardiovascular health, the researchers measured a variety of other factors and found that, on average, women who breastfed for longer were older, had a lower BMI and a higher socioeconomic status.

Recruiting more participants or tracking their health for longer periods of time in additional studies could help provide stronger evidence regarding the benefits breastfeeding might have on cardiovascular health, the researchers concluded.

Independent News Service

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