Health experts usually advise mothers-to-be to breastfeed their babies for the first 6 months and then to continue breastfeeding along with solid food until their babies are one year old.
Breastfeeding is generally believed to benefit both the babies and the mothers. Studies had shown that breastfeeding help protect babies against common ills like diarrhea and middle ear infections. Meanwhile, research also found that women who breastfeed have lower risk of diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease later in life.
A study that was published on October 12, 2011 in the ‘American Journal of Epidemiology’ reported that mothers, who breastfed for at least 6 months, might have a lower risk of getting high blood pressure over 14 years, comparing with those who had only bottle-fed.
Researchers from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill examined the correlation between breastfeeding and later risk of high blood pressure among 55,636 female participants in the long-running Nurses’ Health Study II. All these women had at least one baby.
From 1991 to 2005, 8,861 women were diagnosed with high blood pressure. The risk of developing high blood pressure for women who did not breastfeed their first child were 22 percent higher than those who had exclusively breastfed their child for 6 months. In the meantime, the researchers also found that women who had either never breastfed or done so for 3 months or less were almost 25 percent more likely to develop high blood pressure than those who had breastfed for at least a year. Factors such as diet, exercise and smoking habits had been taken into consideration before arriving the results.
However, the researchers admitted that none of their findings have proven that breastfeeding itself offers long-term protection against high blood pressure. It is possible that there were some other factors like a stressful working environment that hindered women from breastfeeding and contributed to their blood pressure.
On the other hand, it is also likely that breastfeeding has direct benefits. In fact, animal research has found that the hormone oxytocin, which is involved in breastfeeding, has lasting effects on blood pressure. In addition, it is known that women tend to have a lower short-term blood pressure immediately after breastfeeding.
It is estimated by the researchers that 12 percent of high blood pressure cases among women with children might be linked to suboptimal breastfeeding, provided if breastfeeding is in fact protective. They also argued that if this is a casual relationship, taking steps to clear obstacles for breastfeeding could actually help women’s health later on.