Nearly all medical experts agree that breastfeeding has significant benefits for infants. These include better growth rates, stronger immune systems and emotional advantages. Now, according to a new study, breastfeeding mothers may also see great rewards far into their futures.
As reported on August 22, 2018, in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the Women’s Health Initiative conducted an observational study of more than 80,000 women in the U.S. All the participating women, who averaged nearly 64 years of age, had given birth to at least one child.
Many expected the study would show that breastfeeding is beneficial for mothers, but the results of lower stroke risks were surprising.
When a woman breastfeeds a child, the study found that she has an average 23 percent less chance of having a postmenopausal stroke. For Black women, the risk is 48 percent lower. Because stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in women more than 65, this link between lactation and stroke is significant new information. The chances of stroke are even more dangerous for Black and Hispanic women for whom it is the third leading cause of death.
Another surprising finding was that the more children and the longer women breastfed, the higher the protection against stroke in older age.
Of the entire study group, 2,700 had a stroke within the 13 years of the original date of the study. Researchers adjusted data to eliminate extraneous factors like age and family history. They found that any woman who had ever breastfed had a 23 percent lower risk of stroke. Those who breastfed for one to six months had a 19 percent lower rate. For women who breastfed for six months or more, the risk dropped about 25 percent.
Lisette Jacobson, assistant professor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita, is the author of this study. She stated, “Breastfeeding is one of many factors that could help protect against stroke.”
Of course, breastfeeding isn’t the only way to avoid a future stroke. Health care workers know that regular exercise, limiting alcohol, avoiding smoking and keeping a healthy body weight can all go a long way to staying healthy in later years. From the results of this pivotal study, women will have one more good reason to breastfeed their infants.