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Breastfeeding Has Health Benefits for Moms Too

A Chinese study shows it lowers their risk of cardiovascular disease.

Breast feeding has many health benefits for babies, but few American mothers continue the practice for the recommended full year. Their reasons for stopping are not a mystery: There are a variety of disincentives to continuing the practice, including stigma and a loss of income.

Well, a just-published study reveals a major incentive: It reports breastfeeding reduces the mother's risk of heart disease and stroke.

"A history of breastfeeding was associated with an about 10 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease in later life," reports a research team from Oxford University and two Chinese institutions.

"Interventions to increase the likelihood and duration of breastfeeding could have persistent benefits for maternal cardiovascular health," they write in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

The study featured data on nearly 290,000 women from many regions of China, who were recruited between 2004 and 2008 and followed for the next eight years. The results showed mothers who breastfed their babies had a 9 percent lower risk of heart disease, and an 8 percent lower risk from stroke during that period.

What's more, those figures doubled for women who had breastfed each of their babies for two years or more.

"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," co-author Sanne Peters of the University of Oxford said in announcing the results. "Breastfeeding could eliminate the stored fat (that occurs during pregnancy) faster and more completely."

Notably, 97 percent of mothers in the Chinese study reported they breastfed for at least a year. That compares to only 27 percent of American mothers.

Perhaps the next step is examining what political, social, and cultural norms encourage breastfeeding there, and discourage it in the United States.