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Breastfeeding Protects Mom's Heart Decades Later

Update Date: May 28, 2013 10:11 AM EDT
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We've always heard that breast is best when it comes to babies.  However, a new study reveals that breastfeeding can also benefit the mother.  Researchers found that breastfeeding cuts the risk of mothers developing high blood pressure even decades later.

For the study, researchers at University of Western Sydney looked at the relationship between breastfeeding history and the prevalence of high blood pressure in 74,785 Australian women who were aged 45 and over. They found that the longer a woman breastfed, the lower her chances of developing high blood pressure before the age of 64.

Researchers said the latest findings published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology highlights the importance of breastfeeding for both child and mother.

"Hopefully this research will add to the discussion between women and their physicians and midwives. Whenever possible, women should be encouraged to breastfeed as long as possible as the protective effect of breastfeeding increases with the length of time breastfeeding," researcher Dr. Joanne Lind, a senior lecturer in molecular biology and genetics, said in a news release.

Researchers explain that the reasons for the reduced likelihood of having high blood pressure in women who breastfeed are still unknown.  However, it is possible that hormones released while breastfeeding give long-term benefits to the mother's cardiovascular system.

"Despite us not fully understanding the protective mechanism, breastfeeding history should now be considered when assessing a patient's likelihood of having high blood pressure in later life," she said. "Even when we took into account potentially contributing factors such as family history and lifestyle - physical activity and BMI, history of smoking, drinking alcohol - we still found an association between breastfeeding and a lower likelihood of having high blood pressure."

Experts at the World Health Organization recommend that women breastfeed their babies for a minimum of six months.

"This study provides further support for the WHO recommendations, as both the total amount of time a woman spends breastfeeding in her lifetime, and the length of time she spends breastfeeding each child, are associated with a significant reduction in the likelihood of having high blood pressure," Lind concluded. 

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