A university study has found a link between breastfeeding and long-term health benefits in mothers, such as a reduced risk of stroke or heart attacks later in their lives. The scientists stress that although a possible correlation has been found, this does not necessarily mean that increasing breastfeeding would reduce those health risks.

The Study

According to a study by a group of scientists from Oxford University, the Medical Sciences Chinese Academy and Peking University, breastfeeding might have long term health benefits for mothers. It found a link between breastfeeding and long-term health benefits for mothers such as reducing risks of getting a stroke or a heart attack later in life.

Previous studies had only linked breastfeeding to short-term benefits such as weight loss, lowered blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol levels.

The study analyzed the data from 289,573 women of Chinese origin, all at an average age of 51. They asked them about their reproductive history as well as other lifestyle habits that may have also affected their health. The researchers had an 8-year follow-up with the women and found that 16,671 had heart attacks, and 23,983 had strokes.

The researchers then found that when mothers breastfeed for over 2 years, heart disease “risk” was reduced by 18 percent, and stroke risk by 17 percent. Per additional six months of breastfeeding, there is an estimated 4 percent decreased risk of heart disease, and 3 percent decreased risk of having a stroke.

Comments on the Findings

According to Zhenming Chen, an epidemiology professor at Oxford University and one of the lead authors of the study”The findings should encourage more widespread breastfeeding for the benefit of the mother as well as the child.”

“The study provides support for the World Health Organization’s recommendation that mothers should breastfeed their babies exclusively for their first six months of life.”

Sanne Peters, a co-author of the study, also pointed out that this only proves a possible correlation and does not necessarily prove that breastfeeding caused this reduced risk.

Although we cannot establish the causal effects, the health benefits to the mother from breastfeeding may be explained by a faster “reset” of the mother’s metabolism after pregnancy. Pregnancy changes a woman’s metabolism dramatically as she stores fat to provide the energy necessary for her baby’s growth and for breastfeeding once the baby is born. Breastfeeding could eliminate the stored fat faster and more completely,” he said.

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