New Study Finds Breastfeeding May Help Protect Moms Later In Life In An Important Way

by Vanessa Taylor

As health care advances, more benefits of breastfeeding continue to be discovered and the more scientists find, the more miraculous it all seems. In a recent study, as Reuters reported, researchers discovered that breastfeeding may lower a mom's risk of stroke later in life. And there seems to be a specific benefit for women of color.

Strokes aren't often given much thought in the public; many people aren't even aware what exactly a stroke is. In the simplest terms, as the National Stroke Association puts it, a stroke is a brain attack. Essentially, blood flow to a certain area of the brain is cut off where, as a result, cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die. That's part of why the effects of a stroke can vary so much; it all depends on the area of the brain impacted and for how long.

But, strokes affect women in the United States at a staggering rate. According to the National Stroke Association, stroke is the third leading cause of death for women. It's estimated that about one in five women in the United States will have a stroke in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, as the CDC noted, nearly 60 percent will die from the attack.

Now, a new study in the Journal of American Heart Association is pointing at one way to limit strokes' impacts on women: breastfeeding.

Researchers were particularly interested in stroke as the third leading cause of death among Latina and non-Latina Black women aged 65 and older, according to the study's abstract. Researchers wrote:

One factor that may protect against stroke is breastfeeding. Few studies have assessed the association between breastfeeding and stroke and whether this association differs by race and ethnicity.

For this study, researchers wrote that they analyzed the data of 80,191 participants in the Women's Health Initiative, which is an ongoing study tracking the health of postmenopausal women who signed on between 1993 and 1998. As noted by Reuters, all the women in the analysis had delivered one or more children, with 58 percent saying that they had breastfed at some point.

The results were staggering. As Reuters broke down, postmenopausal women who said they breastfed at least one child had a 23 percent lower risk of stroke. But, the effects were the most drastic among women of color. For Latina women, breastfeeding reduced stroke risk by 32 percent and, for non-Latina Black women, stroke risk was reduced by 48 percent, as Reuters explained.

In addition, according to the study, researchers found that even breastfeeding for a short duration (one to six) months was linked with a 19 percent lower risk of stroke. More studies need to be done to understand the correlation, but this follows in a long line of research pointing at the health benefits moms receive from breastfeeding.

In January 2018, as The New York Times reported, breastfeeding was tied to a reduced diabetes risk. And, in 2014, breastfeeding was tied to a reduced cancer risk, as noted by the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. But, not every mother is able to or chooses to breastfeed, and that's completely fair. Although breastfeeding is one way to reduce stroke risk, there are other methods women can follow. As lead author Lisette Jacobson explained, according to Reuters:

Those who cannot breastfeed should remember that there are many factors that protect against stroke, including getting enough exercise, choosing healthy foods, not smoking and keeping blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar under control.

In general, the National Stroke Association noted that women are less likely to be educated about stroke risk. So, a big part of reducing risk is passing on information as a way to educate.

For now, this study has unlocked a lot of new doors and highlights the importance of assisting women who want to breastfeed, particularly women of color.