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Sep 19, 2018

Breastfeeding Helps Protect Women Against Future Strokes

U.S. study finds breastfeeding significantly reduces stroke, especially for those at higher risk.

Breastfeeding reduces stroke risk, particularly in black women who face increased heart risks, based on a recent study that found mothers who breastfed at any point in their lives had a 23% lower risk of stroke than those that never breastfed.

Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, this study looked at the association between breastfeeding and stroke—the third leading cause of death in women over 65. Past studies have suggested that breastfeeding helps protect women against stroke. However, this was among the first to explore the association by both race and ethnicity.

The recent analysis included 80,191 mothers in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, which focuses on the prevention of chronic disease in postmenopausal women. Participants were 64 years old, on average, when they enrolled in the study and were followed for an average of 12.5 years.

Overall, 58% of women reported having breastfed, even for a short period in their lives. Over the follow-up period, 3.4% of women experienced their first stroke.

After analysis, researchers found that women who breastfed had 23% lower risk of stroke than those who never did. They also found that breastfeeding for a longer period of time was associated with an even greater reduction in stroke risk. However, women who breastfed for just one to six months still had 19% lower risk of stroke than those who never breastfed.

When comparing outcomes by race and ethnicity, researchers found that breastfeeding had the strongest effect in black women, as breastfeeding cut stroke risk nearly in half.

Based on findings, authors highlight the importance of breastfeeding to promote heart health. Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding alone for six months, with continued breastfeeding for one year or longer. A national set of objectives for improving public health, Healthy People 2020, also recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months.

However, only about half of U.S. women report breastfeeding at six months and one-third report breastfeeding at one year. These rates are even lower among black and Hispanic women, who face higher risk of stroke than whites.

Therefore, authors note that promoting breastfeeding, especially among women with increased heart risks, could help reduce stroke rates in women.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is stroke?

  • Stroke occurs when there is an interruption of the blood supply to the brain. The two types of stroke include ischemic stroke, where the blood supply to the brain is blocked by a blood clot, and hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when blood vessels rupture and leak blood into the brain. Symptoms of both types of stroke include sudden numbness in the face, arm or leg, confusion, trouble speaking or understanding, trouble with vision, loss of balance or coordination, and severe headache with no known cause. It is crucial that you call 911 immediately upon experiencing any of these symptoms.

Featured Video

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked or bursts. Watch this video to learn about what symptoms to watch for.

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Women and Heart Disease