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28th January 2022
Breastfeeding mothers have a lower risk of subsequent cardiovascular disease in later life according to a meta-analysis by researchers from the Department of Neurology, Clinical Epidemiology Team, Medical University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria.
The World Health Organization has decreed that ‘breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival‘ adding how breastmilk is an ideal food for infants as it is safe, clean and contains antibodies which help protect against many common childhood illnesses. Despite this perceived value, a 2019 analysis of breastfeeding in low and middle incomes countries, revealed how only 37% of children under 6 months of age are exclusively breastfed.
While there are clear benefits to children, breastfeeding also appears to benefit the health of lactating mothers, with one review identifying how breastfeeding for longer than 12 months was associated with a 26% reduced risk of breast cancer and a 32% reduced risk of ovarian cancer. In 2021, a statement from the American Heart Association, suggested that ‘lactation and breastfeeding may lower a woman’s later cardiometabolic risk‘. Furthermore, an umbrella review of the association between maternal health and cardiovascular disease in later life, also suggested an inverse association between length of lactation and morbidity or mortality from cardiovascular disease but did not provide a pooled estimate of this association.
For the present study, the Austrian team undertook a systematic literature review and meta-analysis to more precisely characterise the association between breastfeeding and the development of maternal cardiovascular events. They compared ‘ever’ versus ‘never’ breastfeeding in relation to cardiovascular disease (CVD), coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke or fatal CVD and calculated hazard ratios for each of these outcomes.
The team identified 8 relevant prospective studies which included 1,192,700 women with a mean age of 51.3 years, of whom 82% reported having ever breastfed for a mean duration of 15.6 months.
There was a significant 11% reduced risk of maternal CVD among those breastfeeding compared to who did not (Hazard ratio, HR = 0.89, 95% CI 0.83 – 0.95). Similarly, significant reductions were also observed among those breastfeeding for CHD (HR = 0.86), stoke (HR = 0.88) and fatal CVD (HR = 0.83).
The authors calculated that each additional year of breastfeeding resulted in significant reduced risk, based on hazard ratios, for CVD (HR = 0.91) and CHD (HR = 0.89) and although the risk for stroke was reduced (HR = 0.91) this was non-significant.
Commenting on these results, the authors noted how the relationship between breastfeeding and cardiovascular risk had been overlooked for a long time and that in general, the maternal health benefits are less well known. They suggested that interventions to promote and facilitate breastfeeding should be reinforced.
Tschiderer L et al. Breastfeeding Is Associated With a Reduced Maternal Cardiovascular Risk: Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis Involving Data From 8 Studies and 1 192 700 Parous Women. J Am Heart Assoc 2022