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Breastfeeding Lowers Breast Cancer, Hypertension Risk

Jun 08, 2013 03:55 AM EDT

Breast-feeding is associated with lower risk of breast cancer and hypertension for mothers, according to a new study. Researchers also found that suboptimal breast-feeding costs health care about $859 million and more than $17.4 billion in societal costs from death of mothers before age 70 years.

Breast milk contains all the nutrients required by the baby's body to develop. A recent study had shown that breast-fed babies have faster developing brains. Breast-feeding also benefits mothers, as it strengthens the bond between mother and child, protects the mother from certain cancers and lowers risk for obesity and heart disease.

The present study was conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Medicine. The research team used statistical models to assess the risk of cancers, hypertension and heart diseases in women who breast-fed their babies when compared with those who didn't breast-feed.

The study results showed that if 90 percent of all mothers in the U.S. breast-fed their babies for 12 months or more, then there would be at least 53,000 fewer cases of hypertension; 14,000 fewer cases of heart attack and nearly 5,000 fewer cases of breast cancer. Hypertension is often called as a "silent killer" because it usually has no symptoms and increases the chances of severe health complications such as heart attack or stroke.

"Anyone wearing a pink ribbon to fight breast cancer, or a red dress to fight heart disease, should take note of these findings," said Eleanor Bimla Schwarz, M.D., associate professor of medicine, epidemiology, and obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive services at Pitt's School Of Medicine and co-author of the study.

Women must exclusively breast-feed their babies for at least six months, with continued breast-feeding along with complementary food along for two years or beyond, the  World Health Organization (WHO) recommends.

A recent report from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that in the U.S., the rates of breast-feeding have increased over the years.

"While breastfeeding is widely recognized as important to infant health, more people need to understand that breastfeeding appears to have substantial long-term effects on women's health as well," Dr. Schwarz said in a news release.

The study is published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

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