Breastfeeding May Reduce a Mother’s Heart Attack and Stroke Risk

Researchers from The George Institute for Global Health took part in a recent study on breastfeeding. They uncovered data that supports the idea that breastfeeding is healthy for moms too, not just babies. The research from this latest study shows that the advantages of breastfeeding go well beyond the short-term metabolic health benefits that moms experience.



Short-Term and Long-Term Benefits for Breastfeeding Moms


Breastfeeding has known to have short-term health benefits for moms including lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose levels as well as weight loss after pregnancy. This new study done in China showed that breastfeeding moms did receive long term health benefits because it significantly lowered their risk of developing cardiovascular disease like heart disease and stroke. The study even went as far to show that the longer moms breastfed, the greater effects it had.


The Study


Researchers from The George Institute for Global Health at the University of Oxford, Peking University and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences observed 300,000 women aged 30 to 70 years of age as part of the prospective China Kadoorie Biobank of 0.5 million adults, from 10 urban and rural areas across China. They tracked their health through hospital records charting information about their health, illness, and death. After 8 years of follow-up, there were 16,671 cases of coronary heart disease which includes heart attacks, and 23,983 stroke cases among the 290,000 women who had no previous history of cardiovascular disease when enrolled in the study. The researchers took many different health factors into account including whether participants smoked, had high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and also the amount of physical activity that could have biased the results.


Researchers observed that:

  • Nearly all gave birth and 97 percent of the women breastfed each of their babies for an average of 12 months.
  • Compared to women who had never breastfed, mothers who ever breastfed their babies had a 9 percent lower risk of heart disease and an 8 percent lower risk of stroke.
  • Among mothers who breastfed each of their babies for two years or more, heart disease risk was 18 percent lower and stroke risk was 17 percent lower than among mothers who had never breastfed.
  • Each additional 6 months of breastfeeding per baby was associated with a 4 percent lower risk of heart disease and a 3 percent lower risk of stroke.

Why Breastfeeding Has Health Benefits for Moms


Study author Dr Sanne Peters, research fellow from The George Institute for Global Health at the University of Oxford, explains, “Although we cannot establish the causal effects, the health benefits to the mother from breastfeeding may be explained by a faster “reset” of the mother’s metabolism after pregnancy.” Most of the women in the study gave birth and in China during this time period breastfeeding was much more popular than in the western world. The study authors speculate that because pregnancy changes a woman’s metabolism so dramatically and pregnant women store fat to provide the energy necessary for the baby’s growth and for breastfeeding. Mothers who breastfeed their babies for at least 6 months end up eliminating that stored fat faster which is what presumably leads to the reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases later in life. More studies are necessary to prove cause and effect. Professor Zhengming Chen, a co-author from University of Oxford, said “The findings should encourage more widespread breastfeeding for the benefit of the mother as well as the child. The study provides support for the World Health Organization’s recommendation that mothers should breastfeed their babies exclusively for their first six months of life.” The American Heart Association currently suggests that new moms breastfeed their babies for 12 months. Data from the World Health Organisation shows that 30 per cent of women in the United States breastfed their baby for 12 months in 2016. In China, those statistics were the same for rural women, but dropped to 16 per cent for urban women, who only managed to breastfeed their babies for 6 months.


About George Clinical

In 2007, The George Institute for Global Health launched George Clinical, a leading contract research organisation (CRO) in Asia. George Clinical is the first and largest commercial enterprise from the institute. George Clinical is headquartered in Sydney, Australia but has operational hubs in ten other countries. George Clinical delivers the full-range of clinical trial services across all trial phases and in a variety of therapeutic specializations. George Clinical has contributed directly to several landmark clinical trials, the results of which have changed clinical practice. In addition to testing medications, a large part of their clinical research studies are about food and how unhealthy food intake negatively affects overall health and how that impacts cardiovascular health, diabetes, and stroke in patients around the world.