A study published in the August issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology shows another positive side to breastfeeding: healthier-looking arteries later in life.
Researchers at Northern California’s Kaiser Permanente in Oakland California, led by Erica Gunderson, studied more than 800 American women who had given birth at least once and found that those who had breastfed for longer periods of time had less thickening in their carotid artery walls when they reached middle age. Having less thickening in this important artery helps decrease the chances of heart attacks and strokes later in life.
The study showed that women who breastfed for ten months or more had the least amount of plaque in their arteries.
While there is a correlation between breastfeeding and artery wall-thickening, making a direct cause-effect statement is difficult to do. Breastfeeding is beneficial for maintaining appropriate body weight and for releasing oxytocin, which has been linked to healthier blood pressure levels. Additionally, women who breastfeed for longer periods of time are typically thinner and more physically active than women who do not. Even when the researchers accounted for these factors, they still found a statistically significant relationship between the two conditions.