Reducing Maternal Cardiovascular Disease Risk Through Breastfeeding

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Breastfeeding is a very meaningful aspect of motherhood. It is more than just providing food and nutrients for the baby but also a significant moment for the mother and child to build a close and loving connection. Additionally, breastfeeding also has several health benefits for the mother and child.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is linked to a reduced risk of respiratory infections and death from infectious diseases among breastfed children. Breastfeeding is also associated with maternal health benefits, including lower risk for Type 2 diabetes, ovarian cancer, and breast cancer. Furthermore, previous studies have examined the relationship between breastfeeding and the risk of cardiovascular disease in the mother. 

However, there were inconsistencies in the findings regarding the strength of association, specifically, the relationship between various durations of breastfeeding and cardiovascular disease risk. Hence, a recent meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA) pondered this issue, systematically reviewed the available literature, and mathematically combined all of the evidence on this topic to precisely define the association between breastfeeding and the development of maternal cardiovascular issues. This article will provide a comprehensive summary of the said review while highlighting some of its important findings.

The Association Between Breastfeeding and Cardiovascular Risk

The researchers reviewed health information from eight studies conducted between 1986 and 2009 in Australia, China, Norway, Japan, the U.S., and one multinational study. The review consisted of health records of nearly 1.2 million women with an average age of 25 at first birth and examined the link between breastfeeding and the mother’s cardiovascular risk.

Some information collected from the participants includes the duration the women breastfed during their lifetime, the number of births, their age at their first birth, and whether they’ve had a heart attack or a stroke later in life. 

After a thorough examination of the available data, the researchers came up with the following findings:

  • 82 percent of the women reported having breastfed at some time.
  • Women who breastfed during their lifetime had an 11 percent lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease than those who never breastfed.
  • Women breastfed at some time in their life have a 14 percent lower chance of developing heart disease, 12 percent less likely to suffer strokes, and 17 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease – over an average follow-up period of 10 years.
  • Women who breastfed within 12 months or longer seemed to have lower chances of developing cardiovascular disease than women who did not breastfeed.
  • There were no significant differences in cardiovascular disease risk among women regarding age and number of pregnancies.

In summary, breastfeeding women have reduced chances of developing a heart condition, a stroke, or mortality from cardiovascular issues than women who did not breastfeed.

Raising Awareness of The Maternal Benefits of Breastfeeding

Despite the robust association of breastfeeding with a lower risk for type 2 diabetes, ovarian cancer, and breast cancer for mothers, maternal benefits associated with breastfeeding are still less known. According to a survey of 5554 women in the United States, only 38.5 percent knew that breastfeeding is linked with lowered maternal breast cancer risk.

More so, recommendations to breastfeed by reliable organizations, including the WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are still often ignored, with more women opting not to breastfeed for various reasons.

Although breastfeeding is a choice that may depend on several factors, such as a woman’s work situation, experiences of relatives, and personal factors, including smoking, being overweight, and depression. Women should still be well-informed about the positive benefits that breastfeeding has for them. Some interventions can also help raise awareness, such as creating breastfeeding-friendly work environments, education, and programs on breastfeeding for families before and after giving birth.

Raising awareness of maternal and child benefits of breastfeeding, creating breastfeeding-friendly environments, and encouraging women to breastfeed is very important to preserve both the child’s and mother’s health. 

Further, the researchers stated, “It should be particularly empowering for a mother to know that by breastfeeding, she is providing the optimal nutrition for her baby while simultaneously lowering her risk of a certain disease.”

Journal Reference

Tschiderer, L., Seekircher, L., Kunutsor, S. K., Peters, S. A., O’Keeffe, L. M., & Willeit, P. (2022). Breastfeeding is associated with a reduced maternal cardiovascular risk: Systematic Review and meta‐analysis involving data from 8 studies and 1 192 700 parous women. Journal of the American Heart Association, 11(2). https://doi.org/10.1161/jaha.121.022746 

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