Stroke Risk Reduces in Women Who Have Breastfed Their Babies

Stroke Risk Reduces in Women Who Have Breastfed Their Babies

by Suchitra Chari on Aug 22 2018 5:57 PM
Listen to this article

  • Chances of having a stroke are reduced in post-menopausal women who have breastfed at least one child
  • Stroke risk reduction is now an added benefit of breastfeeding that has already been shown to lower rates of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and diabetes, apart from proven health benefits for breastfed babies
  • Breastfeeding is still only one of the protective factors against stroke - the others being exercise, healthy eating, non-smoking and seeking treatment for health conditions
Women who have nursed at least one child could have a reduced risk of stroke after menopause, according to new research in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
The journal is an Open Access Journal of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.

"Some studies have reported that breastfeeding may reduce the rates of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in mothers. Recent findings point to the benefits of breastfeeding on heart disease and other specific cardiovascular risk factors," said Lisette T. Jacobson, Ph.D., M.P.A., M.A., lead author of the study and assistant professor in the department of preventive medicine and public health at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita.

With stroke as the fourth leading cause of death among women aged 65 and older, and the third leading cause of death among Hispanic and black women aged 65 and older, the study happens to be among the first to examine breastfeeding and a possible relationship to stroke risk for mothers - as well as how ethnicity could influence such a relationship.

Study Design and Results

Researchers chose their participants from the Women's Health Initiative observational study which is a part of an extensive ongoing national study that has tracked the medical events and health habits of postmenopausal women recruited between 1993 and 1998.

They analyzed the data of 80,191 women who at the time of recruitment had an average age of 63.7 years and had delivered one or more children. The follow-up period was 12.6 years.

Fifty-eight percent of the women chosen, reported to have breastfed their children - and among them, the number of women and the duration for which they nursed was as follows -
  • 51 percent breastfed for one-six months
  • 22 percent for seven-twelve months
  • 27 percent for thirteen or more months
The data was adjusted for non-modifiable stroke risk factors like age and family history and revealed that the stroke risk among women who breastfed their babies was on average:
  • 23 percent lower in all women
  • 48, 32, and 21 percent lower in black, Hispanic and white women respectively
  • 19 percent lower in women who had breastfed for up to six months
There was a more significant reduction in risk if the reported length of breastfeeding was longer.

"If you are pregnant, please consider breastfeeding as part of your birthing plan and continue to breastfeed for at least six months to receive the optimal benefits for you and your infant," Jacobson said.

A Few limitations of the study

The study did not address whether differences seen in breastfeeding in various ethnic groups could contribute to disparities in stroke risk.

Although the Women's Health Initiative is large and the researchers adjusted for many characteristics, they could not establish a cause-and-effect relationship between breastfeeding and lower stroke risk - there might still be some other characteristic or factor that could change the stroke risk that distinguishes between women who breastfeed and those who do not.

Women who had already had severe strokes at the time of recruitment were omitted from the study.

Only a small number of strokes occurred during the follow-up period - only 3.4 percent of the women experienced a stroke during the study.

"Breastfeeding is only one of many factors that could potentially protect against stroke. Others include getting adequate exercise, choosing healthy foods, not smoking and seeking treatment if needed to keep your blood pressure cholesterol and blood sugar in the normal range," Jacobson said.

Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend that women breastfeed their babies exclusively for six months, and continue breastfeeding for one year or longer. The American Heart Association recommends breastfeeding for 12 months with the transition to other additional nutritional sources beginning at about 4 - 6 months of age to ensure sufficient micronutrients in the diet.

  1. Breastfeeding may help protect mothers against stroke - (