Need another reason to consider breastfeeding? We have already heard about the many perks that breastfed babies enjoy — from increased immune system support to lower risk for asthma, allergies and ear infections, to a reduced risk of childhood obesity. And the benefits of breastfeeding don't stop at the baby. Moms who breastfeed have a lower risk for postpartum depression and certain diseases such as breast and ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding has also been credited with helping new moms have an easier time losing postpartum weight.
Now, moms can add another advantage to the list. A new study has found that moms who breastfeed have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease later in life. A new study published in the journal of the American Heart Association found that moms who breastfed were 10 percent less likely to develop heart disease and stroke (during the study period) compared to the mothers who did not. Researchers studied 300,000 Chinese women ages 30 to 79 for eight years and determined that the longer they breastfed, the lower their risk was of developing heart disease.
This follows on the heels of a 2015 study in which researchers began surveying the pre-pregnancy cardiovascular health of 846 women in 1985. Twenty years later, they checked back in with the women, using an ultrasound to measure the thickness of their carotid arteries — an indicator for atherosclerosis that can lead to heart disease and stroke. Your carotid arteries transport blood from the heart to the brain. If walls become hardened — or thickened — it puts stress on the cardiovascular system that can lead to heart disease.
Researchers found that the longer a women breastfed, the lower her risk for this hardening of the arteries. They also found that 17 percent of the women who breastfed for one month or less had atherosclerosis compared to 11 percent of the women who breastfed for 10 months or longer.
The study, which was published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, did not answer the question of why breastfeeding might lower a new mom's overall risk for heart disease. But researchers think that while pregnancy may put a strain on a woman's cardiovascular system, nursing may help to restore a mother's heart health to its pre-pregnancy state.
No matter the reason, a chance at improved cardiovascular health gives moms yet one more good reason to breastfeed their newborn babies.
Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was originally published in August 2015.