A recent study shows supporting evidence that breastfeeding could impact the health of the mother in new ways; lowering stroke and heart attack risk.1 It is generally accepted that breastfeeding is superior to formula feeding of infants. After all, why else would mothers produce so much breast milk! It is the perfect mixture of protein and fat, as well as vitamins and minerals, and it’s easily digested by the infant digestive system. Breast milk also contains antibodies from the mother’s immune system, which convey immunity to baby to common bacteria and viruses that mother has been exposed to – this is generally the largest supporting argument against vaccination WHILE infant is breastfeeding; though is a more complicated question than simply that. Breastfed babies generally have fewer allergies and asthma,2 and infections overall; especially babies who are exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months.

Many Breastfeeding Benefits

But mom also reaps some benefits. Breastfeeding is known to burn off excess calories, which actually helps lose pregnancy weight more efficiently- after all, there was a reason the weight was put on in the first place. It also releases oxytocin, which has been correlated with maternal/child bonding, as well as aiding in the return of the uterus to its “pre-pregnancy” size. Breastfeeding also lowers risk of breast and ovarian cancer, as well as osteoporosis.3

American Heart Association Research Findings

And new research conducted by the American Heart Association has found that the risk of heart attack and stroke is lowered later in life for mothers who breastfed their children.1 The study looked at nearly 300,000 Chinese women with an average age of 51 years. As the women were monitored over an 8-year period of time, almost 17,000 participants experienced a heart attack or were diagnosed with coronary heart disease. 24,000 individuals had a stroke.  After accounting for confounding factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and physical activity that could have biased the study outcomes, the findings showed that compared to women who never breastfed, mothers who did had a 9% and 8% reduction in lifelong heart disease and stroke, respectively. Breastfeeding for a period of 2 years additionally lowered the risk by 18% for heart disease, and 17% in stroke.

The study doesn’t conclude any causal effects of breastfeeding, however the theory that by “resetting” the metabolism after pregnancy, fat stores are utilized faster, and less likely to infer the negative effects of obesity. Breast feeding does support a faster “reset” of the mother’s metabolism to a pre-pregnancy state, mainly because it helps utilize the fat stores that were necessary during pregnancy.

 

  1. Peters SAE, Yang L, Guo Y, et al. Breastfeeding and the Risk of Maternal Cardiovascular Disease: A Prospective Study of 300 000 Chinese Women. J Am Heart Assoc. 2017;6(6)
  2. Oddy WH. Breastfeeding, Childhood Asthma, and Allergic Disease. Ann Nutr Metab. 2017;70 Suppl 2:26-36.
  3. Faucher MA. An updated scientific review of the benefits of breastfeeding with additional resources for use in everyday practice. J Midwifery Womens Health. 2012;57(4):422-3.
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Node Smith, associate editor for NDNR, is a fifth year naturopathic medical student at NUNM, where he has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine amongst the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend campout where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Three years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision. 

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