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Breastfeeding may reduce fatty deposits around the heart and other organs.

The benefits of breastfeeding on infant health are widely known, but breastfeeding benefits maternal health, too. For example, evidence suggests that women who breastfeed experience a faster return to pre-pregnancy weight and have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer Findings from a 2021 study suggest that breastfeeding is associated with having less pericardial and visceral adipose tissue.

Pericardial adipose tissue is fat that accumulates in and on the pericardium – the membrane that surrounds the heart. Visceral adipose tissue is fat that is stored in the abdominal cavity near the liver, pancreas, and intestines. Evidence suggests that pericardial and visceral fat produce adipokines, cell-signaling molecules that drive metabolic dysfunction.

The investigators drew on data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study, an ongoing examination of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease in young adults living in the United States. The participants included 910 women who had given birth at least once during the 25 years of follow-up. They provided information about their reproductive histories, overall health, lifestyles, and how long they breastfed. The investigators used computed tomography to measure the women’s body fat.

They found that women who breastfed had less pericardial and visceral fat than women who did not, even when considering the women’s age, race, smoking status, body mass index, fasting glucose, family history of diabetes, fat intake, total cholesterol, and physical activity. The protective effects of breastfeeding were duration-dependent, with longer-duration breastfeeding exerting greater effects, and appeared to last through midlife.

These findings suggest that breastfeeding is associated with having less pericardial and visceral adipose tissue. Learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding in our overview article.

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