If 90% of US mothers breastfed their babies it would prevent 14,000 heart attacks in women per year, according to Dr. Bimla Schwarz, an accomplished physician, researcher and “women’s health truth-teller.”1 Heart attacks are the #1 cause of death in women.
We are all very aware of the benefits that accrue to babies from being fed breastmilk including lower incidences of asthma, obesity, diabetes, eczema, ear infections….the list goes on. But researchers are continuing to uncover more and more advantages to breastfeeding for mothers’ health.
Good health effects
Breastfeeding lowers women’s risks of developing:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol)
- High blood sugar
- Overweight and obesity
- Osteoporosis (bone thinning) and bone fractures
- Breast cancer
- Ovarian cancer
If there was a drug on the market that provided all of these benefits with absolutely no risk, wouldn’t we all be taking it?!
Optimal duration of nursing?
How long do we need to nurse in order to achieve these benefits? According to Dr. Schwarz, the most important time to breastfeed is immediately after birth. Even one month of breastfeeding helps both mother and baby. Of course, the longer you nurse, the better the benefits to both of you. If you have breastfed your babies for over a total of 12 months in your lifetime, you are at significant decreased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease.2
Hold the bottles!
What can we do to promote breastfeeding among new moms? Research has shown that among new mothers who intended to breastfeed, those who were given formula in the hospital were less likely to exclusively breastfeed during the first two months and were less likely to still be breastfeeding at 6 months.
It’s not always easy. Like diet and exercise, breastfeeding takes commitment and encouragement. Hospitals could be more baby-friendly, mom-friendly, and heart-friendly by not supplying free formula and by promoting breastfeeding more vigorously. This is especially important for women of color whose risks of developing obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease are increased.
The link between breastfeeding and postpartum depression (PPD) is a bit confused. Studies have found a lower risk for developing PPD in breastfeeding women. But it’s not that simple. For moms who planned to breastfeed and did, the risk was lowest. But for moms who planned to breastfeed and couldn’t, the risk for PPD was highest. While we want to promote breastfeeding for the sake of both mothers and babies, it is really important to provide extra support to the moms who wanted to breastfeed but were unable to.3
Many women decide to breastfeed for the sake of their baby’s health. Let’s support women and their loved ones in their efforts to breastfeed for the sake of their own health as well.
- E. Bimla Schwarz. http://www.tedmed.com/speakers/show?id=309868. Accessed 15Apr2015.
- Schwarz EB, Ray RM, Steube AM, et al. Duration of lactation and risk factors for maternal cardiovascular disease. Obstet Gynecol 2009; 113(5):974-982.
- Borra C, Iacovou M, Sevilla A. New evidence on breastfeeding and postpartum depression: The importance of understanding women’s intentions. Maternal and Child Health Journal 2015; 19(4): 897-907.