"We were able to show that benefits were visible in anyone with six or more months' lifetime duration of breast-feeding," Schwarz told heartwire, with those who reported a lifetime history of more than 12 months' lactation being 10% to 15% less likely to have hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, and CVD than those who never breast-fed.
Schwarz stressed an important point to heartwire. "It's not that you are better off if you have a baby and breast-feed than someone who's never been pregnant, it's that you are better off than someone who becomes pregnant and does not breast-feed. A woman who becomes pregnant and does not breast-feed is actually putting herself at risk. So we can talk about the benefits of breast-feeding but perhaps it is better framed as the risks of not breast—feeding."
Bairey Merz agrees. "We assume the pathway is that breast-feeding protects, but the association could go in the opposite direction—eg, inability to breast-feed may be a marker of early vascular dysfunction," she suggests.
"Women put themselves at risk by becoming pregnant and not fulfilling the cycle that nature has intended," Schwarz says. "In my mind, the cycle really ends with breast-feeding. During pregnancy, the body stores up a bunch of nutrients with the plan that it's going to release much of this in the form of breast milk, a very calorific food. If this doesn't happen, what we see is that the woman's body pays the price. Breast-feeding really helps bring you back to your baseline, and it helps women recover from the stress test that pregnancy entails."
A lot is still being discovered about how human physiology works. Could it be that weight loss brought about by breastfeeding is a better sort of weight loss compared to that from exercise, diet and diet pills? Does breastfeeding attack fat cells a different way, and does the body favor this type of attack?
I actually hope so.