A new study released by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association suggests that breastfeeding may reduce your risk of stroke later in life.
Ethnic Woman Mother Breastfeeding Baby
Credit: shurkin_son/Shutterstock

New moms are routinely advised, that if possible they should try to breastfeed their baby.

In those first few days before your milk comes in, your body will produce colostrum, a yellowish colored liquid that contains antibodies, vitamins, and plenty of protein to support your infant's health as they transition from life inside the womb to the big beautiful world.

As your baby grows, your breast milk changes to become a perfect food providing optimum nutrition. Babies don't need any other food for at least the first six months of life—your milk is their food, drink, and comfort. Natural, free, and always at the perfect composition and temperature, breast milk really is the original superfood.

Research shows that breastfed babies have a lower rate of asthma, allergies, and ear infections, and typically need to visit the doctor fewer times than a formula fed baby. Breastfed babies also have a lower incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and are less likely to experience obesity problems in childhood.

Although the benefits to baby may be well established, a new report from the Open Access Journal of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association suggests that moms could also reap health benefits from nursing their infant. 

The study, which followed more than 80,000 women over a 12-year period, showed that women who breastfed at least one child had a 21 percent decrease in their stroke risk than women who had never breastfed. This news should be of interest to all of us as stroke remains the fourth leading cause of death among women.

This study, the first to report on the relationship between breastfeeding and stroke risk, was also the first to note differences in ethnicity. The results for women of color were even more pronounced with black women having a 48 percent lower incidence of stroke and Hispanic women experiencing a 32 percent lower rate. The differences between stroke risk and ethnicity can be traced to the fact that women of color already have a higher incidence of stroke risk.

Lisette T. Jacobson, Ph.D., the author of the study, reported that women who practiced extended breastfeeding past 6 months experienced an even greater degree of risk prevention. It wasn't clear from the results gathered whether or not a woman had to nurse her baby in the traditional way or if the same benefits could be achieved through pumping, Dr. Jacobson told Parents.com. She added that The Women's Health Initiative data set didn't collect data on how breastfeeding was accomplished and that the "Mode of delivery of breast milk is a question that future research may focus on."

Although Dr. Jacobson said that for optimum benefits women should breastfeed for at least 6 months, she did note that women who cannot breastfeed or choose not to are able to manage their risk in other ways.

"Breastfeeding is only one of many factors that could guard against stroke. Others include getting adequate exercise, choosing healthy foods, not smoking, and seeking medical treatment if needed to keep your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar within normal range," she said.

This report supports official recommendations from both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization to exclusively breastfeed your baby for at least six months and for longer if possible.

Breastfeeding isn't an option for many new mothers and others may find they are unable to breastfed or simply don't wish to, but for those who can breastfeed, the health benefits can be considerable for both your baby and your own maternal health.