Breastfeeding
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Although many women choose to breastfeed because of the numerous health benefits it offers their offspring, recent research suggests that breastfeeding may also help the health of the mothers' heart later in life.
Although many women choose to breastfeed because of the numerous health benefits it offers their offspring, recent research suggests that breastfeeding may also help the health of the mothers' heart later in life.
Previous studies have looked at the effect of breastfeeding on older women and it was found that post-menopausal women who had breastfed were less likely to report having heart disease. Another study on breastfeeding reported that women who breastfed were less likely to develop metabolic syndrome, a clustering of risk factors that indicate a higher risk for heart disease. 
 
Researchers studied 297 women who had at least one baby. At the time of the study, they were 45 to 58 years old, had never been diagnosed with heart disease and had no known symptoms of heart disease. The researchers used two imaging techniques - electron beam tomography and ultrasound - to assess the health of the women's blood vessels of the heart. 
 
It was found that 32 percent of the women who had not breastfed had coronary artery calcification, compared with 17 percent of the breastfeeding mothers. The researchers found calcifications in 39 percent of the aortas (the main artery of the body) of women who hadn't breastfed, versus 17 percent of the women who had.
 
They also found plaques in the carotid artery of 18 percent of the women who had not breastfed but only in 10 percent of those who had. After adjusting the data for socioeconomic status, family history and lifestyle factors, heart disease risk factors and body mass, the researchers concluded that women who had not breastfed were five times more likely to have aortic calcifications than women who consistently breastfed.
 
The researchers suspected that the apparent benefit from breastfeeding on later heart health stems from how a woman's body stores fat and how that fat is released - or not released - after pregnancy. A woman's body expects to go through pregnancy and then lactation. During pregnancy, a woman's body stores fat that it expects to release during lactation. If women don't breastfeed, then the body has to deal with excessive fat. 
 
The bottom line is that it's really important to breastfeed. If a mother can breastfeed for at least three months after each pregnancy, her blood vessels are likely to be in better shape later on.