My decision to breastfeed my girls had everything to do with them and not much to do with me. I wanted them to reap all of the wonderful benefits of breast milk, and I never gave much thought to whether there would be any benefits for me. That being said, I'll take any benefits I can get! I'm always excited when I come across little nuggets explaining how breastfeeding positively impacts the mother as well as the child.
In particular, the heart-healthy benefits to women are a happy perk of breastfeeding. It’s been hypothesized that lactation may counteract some of the metabolic changes that occur during pregnancy, thereby protecting our hearts.
What are the cardiovascular benefits of breastfeeding to mothers?
Lower risk of heart disease: A large-scale study by the Journal of the American Heart Association found that women who breastfed their babies for 6+ months had a 9% lower risk of heart disease compared to women who didn’t breastfeed. There’s a cumulative effect happening as well – women who had a second child and also breastfed that baby had an 18% lower risk of heart disease.
Lower risk of stroke: This study also found that women who breastfed their babies had an 8% lower risk of stroke compared to women who didn’t breastfeed, with a 17% lower risk of stroke among women breastfeeding multiple children.
Better cholesterol/lower triglycerides: Another large study found that women with normal blood pressure during pregnancy who breastfed for six months or more had significantly higher levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol, and lower triglycerides.
Lower blood pressure: This same study also found healthier carotid artery thickness among women who breastfed for six months or more compared to those who had never breastfed. This might be because breastfeeding increases expression of the hormone oxytocin, which can lower blood pressure.
One critical point to note is that the cardiovascular benefits are most prevalent among women who breastfeed for 6 months or longer – which, coincidently (or not?) is also the WHO’s recommended timeframe for exclusive breastfeeding.
It’s comforting to know there’s a long-term payoff for breastfeeding for both baby and mama, especially since it’s not always easy to breastfeed! And there’s no doubt that breastfeeding is good for your heart in other ways – in particular, the ways that tug at your heart strings and change you (for the better) forever. <3
About Katie Stansberry
Katie Stansberry is a work-remote mom of two sweet girls and the creator of Breastfeeding Bliss. After struggling at the beginning of her breastfeeding journey, she wanted to create a happy place where breastfeeding moms could find practical tips, positive inspiration, and the newest and best breastfeeding products. On her "Back to Bliss" breastfeeding blog, she shares her personal stories and tips for making breastfeeding an easier and more enjoyable experience.