New United States research has found that women who breastfeed for more than six months are more likely to have a smaller waist circumference years later, which could help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Carried out by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Michigan State University, the new study looked at 678 women taking part in the Pregnancy Outcomes and Community Health (POUCH) who also participated in the POUCHmoms Study seven to 15 years after giving birth.
The researchers measured the women’s waist circumference during the follow-up POUCHmoms Study and participants were asked to report on whether they had breastfed or not, and if so, for how long.
The findings, published in the Journal of Women’s Health, showed that women who breastfed for more than six months after pregnancy had less central adiposity, the accumulation of fat around the abdominal area, seven to 15 years later compared to women who breastfed six months or less.
In addition to having an average waist circumference 3.5 centimeters smaller, women who breastfed for more than six months also tended to have a lower body mass index (BMI) and systolic and diastolic blood pressures, as well as smaller hip circumference compared to women who breastfed for less than six months
The findings also held true after the researchers had taken into account other potentially influencing factors such as age, race and ethnicity, pregnancy complications, socioeconomic status and healthy lifestyle factors.
The new study backs up previous research which also found an association between breastfeeding and waist circumference.
As pregnancy contributes to an accumulation of abdominal fat — an indicator of cardiometabolic problems in later life which can lead to an increased risk of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease or stroke — breastfeeding duration may be important to consider when looking at long-term maternal cardiovascular and metabolic health. The researchers also pointed out that waist circumference is a better predictor of long-term cardiometabolic and cardiovascular disease risk than BMI alone.
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months for optimal infant health. JB