Women who breastfed were less likely to develop heart disease or stroke, or die from cardiovascular disease, than women who did not breastfeed, according to a meta-analysis published today in a featured issue of the journal Pregnancy. Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA), an open access, peer-reviewed journal of the American Heart Association.
The health benefits of breastfeeding for children are well known. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is associated with fewer respiratory infections and a lower risk of death from infectious diseases among children who were breastfed. Breastfeeding has also been linked to maternal health benefits, including a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, ovarian cancer and breast cancer.
“Previous studies have investigated the association between breastfeeding and cardiovascular disease risk in the mother; however, results have been inconsistent regarding the strength of the association and, specifically, the relationship between different durations of breastfeeding and risk of cardiovascular disease. it was important to systematically review the available literature and mathematically combine all the evidence on this topic,” said senior author Peter Willeit, MD, M.Phil., Ph.D., professor of clinical epidemiology at the Medical University of Innsbruck in Innsbruck, Austria .
The researchers reviewed health information from eight studies conducted between 1986 and 2009 in Australia, China, Norway, Japan and the United States and one multinational study.
The review included health records for nearly 1.2 million women (average age 25 years at first birth) and looked at the relationship between breastfeeding and a mother’s individual cardiovascular risk.
“We collected information, for example, on how long women breastfed during their lifetime, the number of births, the age at first birth and whether women had a heart attack or stroke later in life or not,” said first author Lena Tschiderer, Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher at the Medical University of Innsbruck.
The review found:
- 82% of women reported having breastfed at least once in their lives.
- Compared with women who never breastfed, women who reported breastfeeding during their lifetime had an 11% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
- Over an average 10-year follow-up period, women who breastfed at some point in their lives were 14% less likely to develop coronary heart disease; 12% less likely to suffer a stroke; and 17% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease.
- Women who breastfed for 12 months or more over their lifetime appear to be less likely to develop cardiovascular disease than women who did not breastfeed.
- There were no notable differences in the risk of cardiovascular disease between women of different ages or according to the number of pregnancies.
Despite breastfeeding recommendations from organizations such as the WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommend that babies be exclusively breastfed until at least six months of age, only 1 in 4 babies receive only milk mother in the first six months. months of life. Black babies in the US are less likely than white babies to be breastfed for any length of time, according to the CDC.
“It’s important for women to be aware of the benefits of breastfeeding for their babies’ health as well as their personal health,” Willeit said. “In addition, these findings from high-quality studies conducted around the world highlight the need to encourage and support breastfeeding, such as breastfeeding-friendly work environments and breastfeeding education and programs for families before and after childbirth.”
The US has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries, and cardiovascular disease is the leading cause, according to the American Heart Association’s 2021 Maternal Health and Saving Mothers policy statement. The statement, which outlines public policies that address racial and ethnic disparities in maternal health, notes that about 2 out of 3 deaths during pregnancy are preventable.
“While the benefits of breastfeeding for infants and children are well established, mothers should be encouraged to breastfeed their babies in the knowledge that they are improving their children’s health and improving their own health as well,” said Shelley Miyamoto, MD, FAHA, President of the American Heart Association Council on Lifelong Congenital Heart Disease and Heart Health in Young People (Young Hearts), Jack Cooper Millisor Chair in Pediatric Heart Disease and Director of the Cardiomyopathy Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora. “Raising awareness of the multifaceted benefits of breastfeeding can be particularly helpful for mothers who are debating breastfeeding versus bottle-feeding.
“It should be particularly empowering for a mother to know that by breastfeeding she is providing optimal nutrition for her baby while also reducing her personal risk of heart disease.”
A limitation of this meta-analysis is that little information was available on women who breastfed for more than two years. “If we had these additional data, we could calculate better estimates for the association between lifetime breastfeeding duration and the development of cardiovascular disease in mothers,” said Tschiderer.
The Austrian Science Fund funded this study.