Study: Breastfeeding reduces risk of heart disease

Potential to reduce rates of leading cause of death

A new study confirms that a patient who breastfeeds has a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, or death from cardiovascular disease. New research suggests that the risk decreases with longer periods of breastfeeding, up to 12 months of duration.

“We already know that patients who breastfeed have a lower risk of developing breast cancer, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and rheumatoid arthritis,” said Elizabeth M. Doyle, M.D., system medical director for lactation services at Norton Healthcare and an internal medicine-pediatrics provider at Norton Community Medical Associates – Shepherdsville. “Heart disease is this country’s leading cause of death, so having this confirmed is very important news.”

The study looked at other research involving more than 1 million patients who had ever breastfed, and found those who breastfed had 11% fewer cardiovascular events, a 14% reduction in coronary heart disease, 12% fewer strokes and 17% fewer fatal heart issues. The research also suggested that the longer breastfeeding occurred, the greater the reduction in risks.

Heart disease in Kentucky

Nationally, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women. Kentucky ranks 43rd out of 47 states reporting data for deaths due to heart disease for those identifying as women. Kentucky reports that 4.8% of women ages 35 to 44 have cardiovascular disease, compared with 3.3% nationally. The only states with higher percentages are Alabama, West Virginia, Louisiana and Arkansas. Data was not available for Alaska, New Jersey and North Dakota.

The commonwealth also is one of the worst in heart disease death rates per 100,000 people, with a rate for women of 397.5 for data from 2017 to 2019. Black women in Kentucky saw a higher rate of death (444.6) compared with other races, but were below the national rate (455.8). The death rate for white women in Kentucky was 399.4, compared with 348.3 nationally.

Additional research has shown that a patient having preeclampsia, gestational hypertension, gestational diabetes mellitus, placental abruption, preterm birth and stillbirth are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and death from cerebrovascular issues.

“With high rates of heart disease already, and additional risks during pregnancy, breastfeeding can play an even more important role in improving patients’ health after childbirth,” said Lyndsey D. Neese, M.D., OB/GYN with Norton Children’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine and medical director of quality for women’s services at Norton Healthcare.

Kentucky breastfeeding facts

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2020 Breastfeeding Report Card, which is published every two years and reflects data from 2018, the number of patients in Kentucky who have ever breastfed has increased 4.6% over the previous report that reflected 2016 data. But that still leaves Kentucky 47th out of 52 (50 states plus the District of Columbia and Guam). In Kentucky, 72.6 % in 2018 breastfed their infants at one point, compared with the national average of 84.1%. Still fewer — 44.5% — were breastfeeding at six months, compared with the national average of 58.3%.

Breastfeeding benefits for children

Breastfed children have a reduced incidence of ear infections, pneumonia, diarrhea/vomiting, leukemia and diabetes. Breastfeeding at least two months can cut the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in half. In fact, the longer a baby is breastfed, the more protection against SIDS.

“Human milk is species-specific and changes to meet an infant’s needs at every stage,” Dr. Doyle said. “Formula is made from cow’s milk, and it doesn’t contain the same benefits. Breastfeeding is truly an investment worth making.”

Need help with breastfeeding?

While not all babies and moms take to breastfeeding as easily as others, help is available. Norton Healthcare lactation services, a part of Norton Women’s Care, offers one-on-one assistance with breastfeeding issues. Help includes pumping and back-to-work consultations, individual prenatal consultations and assistance with special needs infants. The specialists also can offer advice on feeding multiples and dealing with babies having difficulty gaining weight. In addition, specialists can analyze breast milk for fat and caloric content.

Norton eCare also provides online video visits for breastfeeding support. If you have a MyNortonChart account, you have access to free, face-to-face secure video visits with a provider for breastfeeding help any time of the day or night.

The Baby Bistro & Boutique sells and rents breastfeeding supplies and equipment. That includes breast pumps and parts, breastfeeding bras, and breastfeeding pillows. It is located on the Norton Healthcare – St. Matthews campus and was established with support from the Norton Healthcare Foundation.