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Breastfeeding Article
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Breastfeeding Can Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease

By Chaka Mickle

It is well known that breastfeeding is what’s best for both mom and baby. For mothers, breastfeeding burns about 500 calories per day, making it easier to shed those pounds gained during pregnancy. Breastfeeding also helps lower the risk of breast and ovarian cancers for mothers who have breastfed.

For babies, mother’s milk is made specifically with the right amount of fat, sugar, water and protein that changes to meet their needs. Breast milk contains antibodies that help infants fight off certain illnesses and diseases, which can lead to a decrease in ear infections, allergies, asthma and certain childhood cancers.

From the heart
But did you know that breastfeeding might also lower the risk of heart disease for your little one later in life? Research has shown that babies who are breastfed exclusively have lower risk factors for heart disease than those who were formula-fed. These risk factors include lower glucose, cholesterol, C-reactive protein (a marker for heart disease) and adiponectin levels (a protein that affects the body’s processing of fat).

According to an October 2000 study that was published by the Archives of Disease in Childhood, infants who were exclusively breastfed for at least 10 days had lower glucose and cholesterol levels than infants who were formula-fed. It is thought that biologically active substances like growth factors and hormones that are found in breast milk may be responsible for a lower insulin response and higher lipid metabolism in breastfed infants.

A study published in May 2004 by The Lancet revealed that levels of the C-reactive protein were lower among breastfed infants than those who were formula-fed. Another study that was conducted in May 2004 by Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital Medical Center found that breast milk contained the protein adiponectin. Adiponectin affects how the body processes sugars and fats, which can lower the risk of obesity (a risk factor for heart disease).

So what does this mean?
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States for both men and women. More than 930,000 Americans die of heart disease each year, and more than 64 million Americans live with it. Approximately 75% of heart disease can be attributed to preventable risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes and obesity.

Breastfeeding may not prevent heart disease, but it can lower the chance that your bundle of joy will suffer from heart disease in the future. Breastfeeding is one thing you can do for your baby now with benefits that will last a lifetime.

© Chaka Mickle

Chaka Mickle is a recent graduate with a dual master’s degree in nursing and public health and has been a nurse for eight years. She is currently a hospital-based lactation consultant and women's health educator.


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