ADELAIDE, Australia — Breastfeeding for six months can protect new mothers from heart disease for at least three years, a new study explains. This finding is especially important for women who have had a complicated pregnancy, as it can increase their chances of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) later in life.
Researchers from the University of Adelaide in South Australia conducted a long-term study involving 160 breastfeeding mothers. These mothers participated in follow-up health checks after delivering their babies. In collaboration with colleagues at Flinders University, they conducted further follow-ups on 280 women and their children. This was part of the Screening Tests to Predict Outcomes of Pregnancy (STOP) study, which took place between 2018 and 2021.
The study, published in the International Breastfeeding Journal, concluded that women who breastfed their babies for at least six months experienced lower blood pressure and better body-weight recovery (or BMI) for up to three years following childbirth.
Senior author Professor Claire Roberts, who leads the Pregnancy Health and Beyond (PHaB Lab) research group at Flinders, stated that the study was particularly positive for women with pregnancy complications. The research recorded lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol measures in these women at three years postpartum.
“That means that breastfeeding improves women’s cardio metabolic risk factors, which is good news for new mothers who might be at risk of developing future cardiovascular and metabolic diseases,” says Prof. Roberts, from the Flinders College of Medicine and Public Health, in a media release.
“Pregnancy complications are associated with later cardiovascular disease risk and their children are also at risk of impaired metabolic health earlier in life,” Roberts continues. “Along with neurological and other health benefits for babies, the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding exclusively for up to six months, and breastfeeding over 12 months to promote a significant reduction in both chronic hypertension and diabetes in women.”
“We found that women who breastfed for at least six months had significantly lower body mass index (BMI), lower blood pressure, mean arterial pressure and lower central blood pressure than those who did not,” adds the University of Adelaide’s Dr. Maleesa Pathirana.
“We found that if women with at least one major pregnancy complication – like preeclampsia, gestational hypertension and gestational diabetes – breastfed for at least six months, they had significantly lower blood pressure, improved cholesterol profile and lower insulin compared to those who did not breastfeed for at least six months. These findings indicate an overall improvement in cardiovascular health.”
The researchers recommended conducting further investigations with a larger sample size, comparing women who breastfeed to those who choose not to.
They also advocated for more interventions that support breastfeeding in disadvantaged or low socioeconomic areas. This support is particularly vital for women with pregnancy complications, as it may help reduce their lifetime risk of cardiovascular disease.
South West News Service writer Jim Leffman contributed to this report.