Women who have breastfed a baby are less likely to develop heart disease, stroke or die of cardiovascular disease, according to a new Austrian study.
The researchers, led by Peter Willett, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the Austrian Medical University in Innsbruck, published their findings in the Journal of the American Heart Association, and evaluated eight studies millions of women, analyzing the relationship between breastfeeding and maternal cardiovascular health. 1,2% of women had given birth and breastfed at some point in their lives.
The study (meta-analysis) found that, compared to those who had never breastfed, those who had breastfed had an average of 11% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease. They were also 14% less likely to have coronary heart disease, 12% less likely to have a stroke and 17% less likely to die of cardiovascular disease.
Women who breastfed for at least 12 months during their lifetime had a greater risk reduction. There was no significant difference in the risk of cardiovascular disease between women of different ages.
The health benefits of breastfeeding for both child and mother have long been recognized. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), breastfeeding reduces the risk of respiratory infections in children, as well as the risk of dying from infectious diseases. Breastfeeding also reduces a mother's chances of developing type 2 diabetes and ovarian or breast cancer. The new study also highlights the cardiovascular benefits for women who breastfed their babies.
The WHO and other scientific bodies, such as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommend exclusively breastfeeding babies for at least six months after birth, which is estimated to occur in only a quarter of infants.