Many women are already aware that breastfeeding improves a baby’s immune response and can dramatically alter an infant’s developmental health, but new evidence from a doctoral candidate at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) suggests that there is a deep correlation between breastfeeding and maternal heart health.
Tone Natland Fagerhaug says, “It’s good for a mother’s heart to breastfeed.” In fact, mother’s who do not breastfeed have a 30% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than mothers who breastfed for two years or more during their lifetimes. What’s startling, however, is that Fagerhaug’s findings prove that the cardiovascular benefits gained from breastfeeding last until a woman is well past her child-rearing years – until she is 65 years old.
Hers is the first study that has looked at breastfeeding and mortality from cardiovascular disease in industrialized countries. It used data from more than 20,000 women.
Blood Fats and Blood Pressure
Fagerhaug explains the probable reasons behind her findings. When a woman becomes pregnant, the fats in a woman’s blood increase dramatically to support the formation of a new life. This also causes her to gain weight. Much of it is belly fat, which, after delivery, is considered a health risk. A woman’s boy also undergoes tremendous changes regarding blood pressure and sugar metabolism during pregnancy. The study hypothesizes that mothers who breastfeed return to their pre-pregnancy weight more quickly than those who do not, re-stabilizing their metabolisms, blood fats, and blood pressure.
“We do not know exactly what goes on in a woman’s body during lactation that affects her heart health over the long term, but just making milk consumes many calories per day. Breast milk is also fatty and rich in cholesterol, all of which may be contributing factors,” says Fagerhaug.
It is also likely that the act of breastfeeding triggers important hormones which helps the body return to homeostasis. Many doctors believe that breastfeeding starts a hormonal chain reaction in the mother’s body that lasts for several years after the baby is born.
A Little Goes a Long Way
Fagerhaug’s research showed that women who breastfeed have lower blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and fat content in the blood for many years after having given birth. Her findings also suggest that the longer a woman breast-feeds the more significant her reduction in the threat of heart-related illness. Even women who breast-fed for short periods of time lowered their cardiovascular risk factors.
Christina Sarich is a humanitarian and freelance writer helping you to Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.