Breastfeeding is well established as the best way to nourish a newborn, and it helps moms in many ways too. New research adds another possible benefit: Young women who breastfeed may have healthier-looking arteries years later, compared with those who bottle-feed.
The study, published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, reveals that of more than 800 U.S. women who gave birth at least once, those who breastfed longer had less thickening in the carotid artery wall when they reached middle age. Thickening of the carotid artery, which supplies blood to the brain, is considered an early sign of atherosclerosis and a potential cause of heart attack or stroke.
The 846 test subjects were between the ages of 18 and 30 when they entered the study. They had ultrasound scans of the carotid artery 20 years later. On average, women who had breastfed their babies for only one month or not at all had more thickening in the carotid artery wall than did other mothers. Those who had breastfed for 10 months or longer had the clearest arteries.
Though the findings show only a correlation and do not prove cause and effect, the researchers believe that breastfeeding might help by reducing the mom’s body weight and blood pressure. When a woman breastfeeds, the body releases the hormone oxytocin, which has been linked to lower blood pressure.