DALLAS, Aug. 23, 2022 — Breast milk has long been recognized as an ideal nutrient to strengthen the immune systems of newborns and infants. The American Heart Association says breastfeeding can also provide many heart-healthy benefits for babies and for their birthing parent.
In a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in January 2022, researchers found that women who breastfed at some point during their lives were 17% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than women who never breastfed. Over a 10-year average follow-up period, women who breastfed were 14% less likely to develop heart disease, 12% less likely to have strokes and 11% less likely to develop any cardiovascular disease. Women who breastfed up to 12 months during their lifetime had lower risks. The analysis included health data for nearly 1.2 million women from eight studies conducted between 1986 and 2009 in Australia, China, Norway, Japan and the U.S. and one multinational study.
Babies who consumed breastmilk, even for a few days, had lower blood pressure at 3 years of age compared to children who never had breast milk, according to another study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2021. Blood pressure was lower among the toddlers who had been breastfed, regardless of how long they were breastfed or if they received other complementary nutrition and foods.
“There’s growing evidence that suggests breastfeeding can play an important role in lowering cardiovascular disease risks. We know that cardiovascular disease risk factors, including high blood pressure, can start in childhood, so giving a baby breast milk even for a few days in infancy is a good start to a heart-healthy life,” said Maria Avila, M.D., an American Heart Association volunteer expert and an assistant professor of cardiology at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell in Hempstead, New York. “There have been a number of studies that show breastfeeding can reduce a woman’s risk of heart disease and stroke. People who breastfeed their babies are taking steps to improve their own heart health, as well, so it’s definitely an option to strongly consider.”
For babies’ health, the American Heart Association recommends breastfeeding for 12 months, transitioning to other additional sources of nutrients beginning at about four - six months of age to ensure sufficient micronutrients in the diet.
However, not all birthing parents can or want to breastfeed and Avila said that’s OK. Expressing breast milk or even using donated breast milk and feeding it to a baby in a bottle can also help infants get those important nutrients and possibly the heart-health benefits of traditional breastfeeding. However, if none of those are options, iron-fortified infant formula is recommended, according to Avila.
“Having a newborn can be a stressful time for any parent, and not being able to breastfeed your baby or having a fussy baby who doesn’t want to breastfeed could add to, so know you have options. The most important thing a parent can do for their child is to give them every early start at a heart-healthy life, and that can begin even before conception and with good prenatal care to help reduce their own cardiovascular risks as much as possible,” Avila said. “Along with eating right, staying active and managing blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and other health conditions, real health includes keeping both your body and your mind fit. Make sure you practice self-care and ask for help from your partner, family or other support groups. Enjoy this special time in your family’s life because it really does go back quickly.”
Studies published in the American Heart Association’s scientific journals are peer-reviewed. The statements and conclusions in each manuscript are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect the Association’s policy or position. The Association makes no representation or guarantee as to their accuracy or reliability. The Association receives funding primarily from individuals; foundations and corporations (including pharmaceutical, device manufacturers and other companies) also make donations and fund specific Association programs and events. The Association has strict policies to prevent these relationships from influencing the science content. Revenues from pharmaceutical and biotech companies, device manufacturers and health insurance providers and the Association’s overall financial information are available here.
The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public's health and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for nearly a century. Connect with us on heart.org, Facebook, Twitter or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.