You’re probably aware of the benefits of breastfeeding for babies — including receiving antibodies, optimal nutrition, and an opportunity to bond — but recent research points out the long-term benefits for moms as well.
Breastfeeding decreases a woman’s chance of heart disease later in life, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Athens, Greece.
Dr. Irene Lambrinoudaki, an associate of gynecological endocrinology at the university, led the study by examining heart and blood vessel health in 283 postmenopausal women, and compared that to whether they breastfed and for how long.
Accounting for factors like weight, age, and smoking habits, the research team found that women who breastfed anywhere from 1 to 80 months were less likely to develop heart disease.
They attributed the cardiac advantage to prolactin, a hormone released by breastfeeding women.
Lambrinoudaki presented the findings at the European Society of Endicronology’s 2019 meeting, held this month in Lyon, France.
“These findings indicate that breastfeeding lowers the risk of heart disease in women. However, this is an association study only, we are now interested in looking at establishing the underlying causes of this protective effect,” Lambrinoudaki said in a press release.
“If we can show causality for the protective effect, women will have one more reason to nurse their infants, beyond the already documented benefits of breastfeeding for short-and long term health of both them and their children.”
“This new study adds to a growing body of work that indicates that breastfeeding does have really important effects on maternal health for many years on into menopause,” Dr. Eleanor Bimla Schwarz, a professor in the Department of General Internal Medicine at the University of California Davis, told Healthline.
Of course, it’s not always possible for a mother to breastfeed, and not breastfeeding shouldn’t automatically cause concern about heart disease. Heart disease symptoms in women often differ from the chest pain associated with heart issues in men. Women, regardless of breastfeeding history, should be on the lookout for shortness of breath, unusual fatigue, shortness of breath, and nausea/vomiting as potential indicators of a heart problem.
The research team in Athens is currently conducting further studies to see if they can pinpoint the breastfeeding benefit more precisely, and find more ways to reduce heart disease risks for all manner of folks, whether they breastfed or not.
Until then, reducing cholesterol and red meat in diets and exercising regularly are good ways to keep heart health in check.