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More evidence that breast feeding benefits the mother too

The fact that breast feeding is good for both mother and baby is no longer a matter of debate. Now, there is even more reason for those who breast feed or are planning to do so to stick to their decision. More evidence that breast-feeding likely has long-term health benefits for the mother as well as the child has emerged from a new US study, the results of which appear in the January 2010 issue of the medical journal Obstetrics and Gynecology

Women who had nevBenefits of breast feedinger breast-fed were more likely to have vascular changes associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease than those who had consistently breast-fed their children, Dr Eleanor Bimla Schwartz of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Health Care, PA and her colleagues discovered.

There are several older studies that indicated long term beneficial effects of lactation for the mother, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. These findings build on previous work that has shown that women who do not breast-feed are at greater risk of clinical cardiovascular disease, by providing insight into the early effects of lactation on a mother's body.

Breast-feeding: Good for mothers and good for babies

Dr Alison Stuebe of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, who has conducted research on lactation and coronary heart disease but was not involved in this study, told heartwire, an online cardiology magazine: "This adds to the evidence that breast-feeding is good for mothers and good for babies [and] underscores why we need to ensure that mothers who want to breast-feed have access to the support they need to successfully nurse their babies and meet their breast-feeding intentions."

Four times higher risk for women who never Breast-Feed

Schwartz and colleagues performed a cross-sectional analysis of almost 300 women aged 42 to 52 years who had reported at least one previous live birth and were enrolled in the Study of Women Across the Nation (SWAN)-Heart. Lactation history was assessed at baseline and was self-reported.

Women were classified as never having breast-fed; inconsistently breast-fed; nursed any of their children for less than three months; or consistently breast-fed, breast-feeding each child for three months or more.

The science

Subclinical cardiovascular disease was measured at the baseline visit. Calcification of the aorta and coronary arteries was assessed by electron-beam computed tomography (EBCT).

B-mode ultrasonography was employed to measure carotid adventitial diameter, intima-media thickness (IMT), and carotid plaque.

After adjustment for measures of socioeconomic status and lifestyle and family-history variables, those who had not breast-fed were almost four times more likely to have aortic calcification (odds ratio 3.85, 95% CI 1.47–10.00) and nearly three times more likely to have coronary artery calcification (OR 2.78, 95% CI 1.05-7.14) than mothers who had consistently breast-fed. These changes increase the risk of chronic high blood pressure and heart attacks respectively.

There were no differences between the groups for carotid measures after adjustments for potential confounders.

Comparing women who had consistently breast-fed with those who had inconsistently lactated showed the latter were twice as likely to have coronary artery calcification (Odds ratio 2.02) in unadjusted analyses, but there was no significant difference between the two groups following multivariate adjustment.

Breast-Feeding intentions should be given appropriate support

The researchers note that their study is observational and as such may be subject to residual confounding. Nevertheless, they say, "These findings support recommendations that women breast-feed their infants in the interest of both maternal and child health."

Dr Stuebe said that in a recent large US survey, 77% of mothers who weaned by three months wanted to breast-feed longer but were unable to do so. "In US maternity hospitals, most mothers receive poor-quality breast-feeding care, and 'booby traps' in the community undermine women, whether they are thrown out of a department store for breast-feeding an infant, denied paid maternity leave, or prohibited from pumping during breaks at work," she commented.

"This is a women’s health problem. We need comprehensive changes in medical training, hospital policies, maternity leave, and workplace support to ensure that all mothers can meet their breast-feeding goals," she concludes. The subject of breast feeding including detailed practical tips is covered in this section:

Some individuals in the public eye are helping make breast feeding popular again in a very practical way