DALLAS — Breastfeeding is not only beneficial for babies, but it can be beneficial for the longterm health of mothers, too. A study published by the American Heart Association finds that the risk of stroke for post-menopausal women was reduced in those who reported breastfeeding at least one child.
Stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death among women 65 years old and older, but minorities are especially at risk. It’s the third-leading cause of death among Latinx and black women 65 years old and older, but researchers say that risk can be lowered by breastfeeding. The study is one of the first to analyze a possible relationship between breastfeeding and stroke risk in mothers as they age. It’s also one of the first to examine how a relationship might vary by ethnicity.
“Some studies have reported that breastfeeding may reduce the rates of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in mothers. Recent findings point to the benefits of breastfeeding on heart disease and other specific cardiovascular risk factors,” says Dr. Lisette T. Jacobson, lead author of the study and assistant professor in the department of preventive medicine and public health at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita, in a statement.
Researchers used data from 80,191 participants in the Women’s Health Initiative observational study, a national, ongoing study tracking medical events and health habits of post-menopausal women recruited between 1993 and 1998. The women in this analysis had delivered at least one child. Nearly six in ten (58%) reported breastfeeding their children. Among the breastfeeders, 51% breastfed their children between one and six months. 22% breastfed for seven to 12 months, and 27% for 13 or more months. The average age of the women in the entire cohort was 63.7 years at the time of recruitment. The follow-up period was 12.6 years.
The researchers adjusted for non-modifiable stroke risk factors, like age and family history, and found that stroke risk in all women who breastfed their babies was 23% lower. That percentage was more than doubled (48%) for black women. For Latinx women who breastfed, stroke risk dropped by 32%, compared to a 21% reduction in white women.
The study also found a 19% lower risk in women who had breastfed for up to six months. A longer length of breastfeeding was related to a greater reduction in risk.
“If you are pregnant, please consider breastfeeding as part of your birthing plan and continue to breastfeed for at least six months to receive the optimal benefits for you and your infant,” notes Jacobson.
The study is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.