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Proper Breastfeeding Reduces Maternal Deaths, Study

Update Date: Jun 07, 2013 12:48 PM EDT

Women should breastfeed for themselves, experts say.

New findings by researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine revealed that women who breastfeed are significantly less likely to develop breast cancer and hypertension and suffer heart attacks.

Furthermore, the findings published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology suggest proper breastfeeding could save $859 million in health care costs and over $17.4 billion in societal costs from maternal deaths before the age of 70.

Researchers said numerous studies have revealed the negative health effects suboptimal breastfeeding has on infants and children.  Past findings suggested that suboptimal breastfeeding result in over $14 billion in health costs.  However, the latest study is the first to look at the maternal health burden of current rates of breastfeeding in terms of both health and economic costs.

Researchers used modeling simulations to assess the effects of infant feeding practices on five maternal health conditions: breast cancer, premenopausal ovarian cancer, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and myocardial infarction (heart attack).

The findings revealed that if 90 percent of mothers breastfeed as recommended for 12 months after each birth, there would be 53,000 less cases of hypertension, 14,000 less cases of heart attacks and nearly 5,000 less cases of breast cancer among U.S. women.

"Anyone wearing a pink ribbon to fight breast cancer, or a red dress to fight heart disease, should take note of these findings", co-author Dr. Eleanor Bimla Schwarz, an associate professor of medicine, epidemiology, and obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive services at Pitt's School Of Medicine, said in a news release.

"While breastfeeding is widely recognized as important to infant health, more people need to understand that breastfeeding appears to have substantial long-term effects on women's health as well," Schwarz explained. 

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