Because the female form has been sexualized in Western cultures, women feel immense pressure to wean their children off breast milk as soon as possible. Many also hide the practice in public, as they feel embarrassed about the necessity. Such is unfortunate, as there are well-established benefits to breastfeeding a young infant may miss out on if they are instantly transitioned to formula food. For instance, research has shown that breastfed babies have improved immune systems, reduced risk of developing childhood leukemia, reduced likelihood of becoming obese, developing type 2 diabetes, and even a reduced likelihood of getting cardiovascular disease later on in life.
Another lesser-known benefit to breastfeeding is that the mothers who partake in the practice actually safeguard their own health in the process. A new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association determined that women who breastfeed have a lower risk of developing heart disease or stroke.
Reuters reports that for the study, researchers analyzed data on 289,573 women in China, aged 30 to 79. The females were recruited for the study between 2004 and 2008 and were followed for eight years. Throughout their entire lives — in urban and rural settings — they gave information about their health and habits of breastfeeding. Extra data was also obtained from insurance and health agencies to uncover other issues that ailed them. Almost every single woman gave birth to a child during the eight-year period, and most of them engaged in breastfeeding.
All in all, there were 23,983 stroke cases and 16,671 cases of coronary heart disease — including heart attacks. After taking into account factors such as age, smoking, high blood pressure and activity level, it was learned that mothers who breastfed had a 9 percent lower risk of heart disease and an 8 percent decreased risk of stroke compared to mothers who did not breastfeed.
IFLScience relays that mothers who breastfeed for up to 24 months had a 18 percent lower risk of heart disease, as well as a 17 percent lower risk of stroke compared to those who didn’t engage in the activity.
The study was conducted by the University of Oxford. In their report, the team noted that the research was “not designed to prove cause and effect.” Nonetheless, it unearthed an interesting correlation.
“Pregnancy causes major changes to a woman’s metabolism as she stores fat to provide the energy necessary for her baby’s growth and for breastfeeding once the baby is born,” explained the lead researcher, Sanne Peters who is an epidemiologist. “Breastfeeding could eliminate the stored fat faster and more completely.”
Peters included the fact that women in Western cultures who breastfeed are more likely to engage in other beneficial behaviors than those females who do not breastfeed, therefore, the study is not entirely conclusive. While the study itself is very concrete, more research is needed to solidify the hypothesis that breastfeeding improves the health of the mother, as well as the child.
IMAGE CREDIT:oksun70 / 123RF Stock Photo