A Win-Win for Breastfeeding

08.24.10 Nurse longer and enjoy better health later, studies say

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The longer you breastfeed, the less likely you'll develop a syndrome linked to heart disease, stroke and diabetes, according to recent studies in the journals Diabetes and Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Researchers followed 704 women from the time they became pregnant. After two decades, 120 had been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, symptoms of which include belly fat, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels and insulin resistance. However, those who'd breastfed for up to five months or longer had much lower odds of receiving that diagnosis—39 percent to 56 percent lower than women who breastfed for less than a month.

Women diagnosed with gestational diabetes fared even better. Their risk for metabolic syndrome several years after pregnancy dropped 44 percent to 86 percent, depending on how long they breastfed; more than nine months of breastfeeding reduced their risk to one-seventh the rate of women who nursed for a month or less.

Breastfeeding seems to help normalize blood sugar and fat levels, explains Erica P. Gunderson, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif. "Evidence suggests it has persistent benefits. Women should consider that when they're deciding whether to breastfeed."

There are so many reasons to breastfeed. Remember, the abundance of good things in mother's milk offers your baby (and you!) lifelong benefits. Bookmark our Ultimate Guide to Breastfeeding page as your go-to source for everything you need to know about nursing your little one. —Shari Roan

Maria Vega is Fit Pregnancy magazine's copy editor.