PITTSBURGH, April 21 - The longer women breastfeed, the lower their risk of heart attacks, strokes and cardiovascular disease, report University of Pittsburgh researchers in a study published in the May issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
"Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women, so it's vitally important for us to know what we can do to protect ourselves," said Eleanor Bimla Schwarz, M.D., M.S., assistant professor of medicine, epidemiology, and obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. "We have known for years that breastfeeding is important for babies' health; we now know that it is important for mothers' health as well."
According to the study, postmenopausal women who breastfed for at least one month had lower rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, all known to cause heart disease. Women who had breastfed their babies for more than a year were 10 percent less likely to have had a heart attack, stroke, or developed heart disease than women who had never breastfed.
Dr. Schwarz and colleagues found that the benefits from breastfeeding were long-term ― an average of 35 years had passed since women enrolled in the study had last breastfed an infant.
"The longer a mother nurses her baby, the better for both of them," Dr. Schwarz pointed out. "Our study provides another good reason for workplace policies to encourage women to breastfeed their infants."
The findings are based on 139,681 postmenopausal women enrolled in the Women's Health Initiative study of chronic disease, initiated in 1994.
Co-authors of the study include Roberta Ray, M.S., Fred Hutchinson Research Center; Alison Stuebe, M.D., University of North Carolina School of Medicine; Matthew Allison, M.D., University of California, San Diego; Roberta Ness, M.D., M.P.H., University of Texas; Matthew Freiberg, M.D., University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; and Jane Cauley, Dr.P.H., University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.
The research was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Institute of Child Health and Development.