You’ve read about the many benefits of breastfeeding, but new research finds yet another reason for Baby to latch on: heart health for the rest of her life.
Researchers examined nearly 7,000 men and women between 24 and 32-years-old, measuring a key indicator of inflammation (C-reactive protein, in case you’re wondering), and found that those who were breastfed for less than three months (or not at all) were more likely to have chronic inflammation as adults, which ultimately increases their risk for heart disease. (BTW, breastfeeding helps your heart, too!) In fact, levels of the inflammatory protein were 20 to 30 percent lower in those who were breastfed for 3 to 12 months, compared to those who weren’t breastfed at all. The study was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
“There are likely three ways that breastfeeding influences inflammation years later,” says Thomas McDade, Ph.D., professor of anthropology at Northwestern University, and lead author of the study. First, breast milk helps shape the part of the immune system that regulates inflammation during infancy, and possibly into adulthood. Secondly, breast milk may determine the types of bacteria that colonize in your baby’s intestine—and gut bacteria affect inflammation. (Researchers still aren’t sure how breast milk would affect gut microbes long-term.) Lastly, since body fat is associated with higher levels of inflammation, and research shows breastfeeding reduces a baby’s risk of obesity later in life, Dr. McDade thinks breastfeeding could play an indirect role in preventing inflammation by reducing body fat.
No matter what’s going on in your baby’s body, one thing’s for sure: breastfeeding is pretty awesome. If you’re having trouble nursing (sadly, “awesome” does not equal “easy”), here are 6 Breastfeeding Problems and How to Overcome Them and Natural Ways to Boost Your Milk Production.