Mothers who breastfeed reduce their risk of obesity decades later, research has shown.
Childbirth and breastfeeding have significant, but opposite, effects on long-term weight, according to a study of 740,000 post-menopausal women.
Scientists found that the more children a woman had, the heavier she was likely to be in later life.
But average body mass index (BMI) was lower in women who breastfed, irrespective of how many times they had given birth.
Every six months of breastfeeding reduced a woman’s long-term BMI by 1%, the research showed. This was after taking account of factors known to influence obesity risk such as smoking, exercise and social deprivation.
The findings are reported in the International Journal of Obesity.
Professor Dame Valerie Beral, director of the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University, a member of the study team, said: “Our research suggests that just six months of breastfeeding by UK women could reduce their risk of obesity in later life. A 1% reduction in BMI may seem small, but spread across the population of the UK that could mean about 10,000 fewer premature deaths per decade from obesity-related conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.”
Lead author Dr Kirsty Bobrow, also from Oxford University, said: “We already know breastfeeding is best for babies, and this study adds to a growing body of evidence that the benefits extend to the mother as well - even 30 years after she’s given birth. Pregnant women should be made aware of these benefits to help them make an informed choice about infant feeding.”