The decision about whether or not to breastfeed your baby is a personal one, but you might want to keep in mind there’s increasing evidence that benefits abound, not only for baby, but for moms too.
Breastfeeding has been found to help new mothers lose their pregnancy weight, bolster baby-mom bonding and lower the risk of post-partum depression. Years down the road it’s also been shown to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Mothers who breastfeed and are vaccinated against COVID-19 share that protection with their infants.
Now there’s even more — women who breastfed their babies are less likely to get Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) later in life.
Scientists had suspected breastfeeding might reduce the risk of future Alzheimer’s, but the connection hadn’t been cemented until researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles reported another plus. “What we do know is that there is a positive correlation between breastfeeding and a lower risk of other diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and those conditions are strongly connected to a higher risk of AD,” Helen Lavretsy, the senior author of the study and a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, said in a statement.
The longer mothers spent breastfeeding, the better their overall cognitive performance in later life.
In order to find out if breastfeeding helps to keep moms’ minds alert as they age, the researchers looked at data on women 50 years or older who had participated in two 12-week clinical trials at UCLA Health that focused on cognitive decline among depressed and non-depressed senior women. Of these post-menopausal women, 115 chose to participate in the breastfeeding-Alzheimer’s study. Sixty-four were identified as depressed and 51 were not depressed.
All the participants completed a series of psychological tests that measured learning, delayed recall, executive functioning (a set of mental skills that include working memory, flexible thinking and self-control) and processing speed (how long it takes to get something done). The women also answered a questionnaire about their reproductive life-history which included the length of time they breastfed each child and the age at which they reached menopause, as well as other information.
None of the participants of the study had been diagnosed with dementia or other psychiatric disorders; none had alcohol or drug dependence, neurological disorders, were taking any psychoactive medications or had any disabilities to prevent them from participating in the research. There was also no significant difference in age, race, education or other cognitive measures between the depressed and non-depressed women in the study.
Breastfeeding can help new mothers lose their pregnancy weight, bolster bonding and lower the risk of post-partum depression. It’s also been shown to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Women who breastfed had superior performance in learning, delayed recall, executive functioning and processing speed compared to women who had not breastfed. What’s more, the researchers also found that the longer mothers spent breastfeeding the better their overall cognitive performance was later in life. That’s information worth knowing while making a decision about whether or not to breastfeed.
If you’re pregnant and thinking about breastfeeding after giving birth, or if you’re a new mom and have a question about breastfeeding, speak with your obstetrician. Information is also available at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health (OASH). Call them anytime between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday, at 1-800-994-9662, to talk with a health information specialist in English or Spanish.
The findings are published in in the journal Evolution, Medicine and Public Health.