Nov. 5, 2007 (Orlando, Fla.) -- The benefits of breastfeeding don't stop when your baby is weaned. A new study suggests that breastfeeding may protect your baby against developing heart disease later in life.
Researchers found that babies who are nursed for one month or longer have a lower body mass index (BMI) and higher levels of "good" HDL cholesterol in mid-adulthood than their bottle-fed counterparts. A lower BMI and high HDL both protect against cardiovascular disease.
"The findings highlight how early-life nutrition can affect long-term health," Nisha I. Parikh, MD, a cardiovascular fellow at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, tells WebMD.
Sidney Smith, MD, a past president of the American Heart Association (AHA) and a heart doctor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, says the findings provide women with one more reason to consider breastfeeding.
"The study shows an important benefit on BMI and lipid abnormalities known to be associated with heart disease," he tells WebMD.
Breastfed Babies Have Lower BMI as Adults
Parikh says she got the idea for the study after returning from maternity leave. "We all know about the many benefits of breastfeeding in infancy and childhood. But I wondered if it were as helpful for health in adulthood," she says.
The study, which was presented at the AHA's annual meeting, used data from two generations of participants in the Framingham Heart Study. The average age of the participants was 41, and 54% were women.
Results showed that the average adult HDL "good" cholesterol level for breastfed infants was 57 vs. 54 for the bottle-fed participants.
The breastfed infants also had a significantly lower average BMI in adulthood: 26 vs. 27 for formula-fed infants. Adults with a BMI of 25 to under 30 are considered overweight, and those with a BMI of 30 and higher are considered obese.
"This was a modest reduction in BMI, but even a modest reduction leads to a significantly reduced risk of cardiovascular disease-related death," Parikh says.
Breastfeeding was not associated with any other adult heart disease risk factor.