WOMEN'S HEALTH
October 28, 2019

Breastfeeding Helps Mothers' Health, Too

Breastfeeding seems to help balance some of the metabolic problems pregnancy can bring, reducing the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Not all women are able to breastfeed, but for those who can, it could bring long-term metabolic and cardiovascular benefits. That makes counseling pregnant women or new mothers about what breastfeeding can do for them, as well as their babies, a low-risk way healthcare providers can improve their patients’ health, a study shows.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) continues to be the leading cause of death among women. They have the same risk factors for CVD as men, such as lifestyle and diet. However, women are also at risk as a result of metabolic factors unique to pregnancy and the postpartum period.

Breastfeeding reduced the risk of diabetes by 30 percent and hypertension by 13 percent in mothers who breastfed for more than 12 months, compared to those who did not.

Pregnancy raises a woman's cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels and the risk of glucose intolerance. But breastfeeding consumes 500 calories per day and breaks down fat stores, so breastfeeding could offset the cardiovascular and metabolic issues that can come with pregnancy. The studies of the effect of breastfeeding on a mother's risk of cardiovascular disease have been small, however, and the findings have been inconsistent.

A team of researchers decided to review the scientific literature to see if breastfeeding affected rates of maternal hypertension and diabetes. “Most recent data on breastfeeding have focused on its effects on the baby, but few have truly investigated the long-term effects on mothers,” Haitham Ahmed, corresponding author on the study, told TheDoctor in an email.

The researchers analyzed data from six studies involving more than 200,000 women to determine if there was an association between breastfeeding and maternal hypertension and/or diabetes. The researchers found breastfeeding reduced the risk of diabetes by 30 percent and hypertension by 13 percent in mothers who breastfed for more than 12 months, compared to those who did not.

“As CVD is the leading cause of death among women, more emphasis is needed on prevention, especially at times of metabolic vulnerability, such as pregnancy,” said Ahmed, chair of cardiology at AdvantageCare Physicians in Brooklyn, New York.

The study is published in JAMA Network Open.

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