Breastfeeding Status and Maternal Cardiovascular Variables Across the Postpartum

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Background: There have been recent reports that lactational history is associated with long-term women's health benefits. Most of these studies are epidemiological. If particular cardiometabolic changes that occur during lactation ultimately influence women's health later is unknown.

Methods: Seventy-one healthy women participated in a prospective postpartum study that provided an opportunity to study anthropometric, endocrine, immune, and behavioral variables across time. Variables studied were heart rate (HR), systolic blood pressure (SBP), diastolic blood pressure (DBP), C-reactive protein, body mass index (BMI), perceived stress, and hormones. A cohort of women without a change in breastfeeding (N=22) or formula feeding (N=23) group membership for 5 months was used for analysis of effects of feeding status. The data were analyzed using factorial repeated measures analysis of variance and analysis of covariance.

Results: SBP and HR declined across the postpartum and were significantly lower in breastfeeding compared to formula feeding mothers (p<0.05). These differences remained statistically significant when BMI was added to the model. Other covariates of income, stress, marital status, and ethnicity were not significantly associated with these variables over time. DBP was also lower, but the significance was reduced by the addition of BMI as a covariate. Stress also was lower in breastfeeders, but this effect was reduced by the addition of income as a covariate.

Conclusions: These data suggest that there are important physiological differences in women during months of breastfeeding. These may have roles in influencing or programming later risks for a number of midlife diseases.

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Journal of Women's Health, v. 24, issue 5, p. 453-459