Losing Luke Perry to a stroke was a shock. For those of us that grew up on Beverly Hills 90210, we are mourning a bit more for Dylan McKay and his sweetness and crooked grin. While stroke is usually considered a something that happens to older people, it can happen to anyone at any age. Women are more likely to suffer a stroke than men – in fact 55,000 more women than men will have a stroke this year. Birth control pills, pregnancy are risks for younger women, while hormone replacement therapy and high blood pressure are associated with risks for stroke later in life. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in August 2018 found stroke is the fourth leading cause of death among in women 65 and older, and is the third leading cause of death among Hispanic and black women aged 65 and older.

Having a stroke can hugely complicate life for you and your family. After a stroke, many women will become disabled and unable to live independently, it is the most common cause of long-term disability and costs the economy $34 billion annually. We plan our retirement financially through 401K savings and funding Medicare – it is just as important to plan for a healthy, physically active retirement. Reducing stroke risk is important for both aspects, as medical costs can quickly wipe out savings accounts.

This 2018 study looked at breastfeeding and how it relates to the risk of stroke for moms. The researchers also collected information about the ethnic background of the moms and how it relates to stroke risk.

Researchers analyzed data on 80,191 participants in the Women’s Health Initiative observational study, a large ongoing national study that has tracked the medical events and health habits of postmenopausal women who were recruited between 1993 and 1998. All women in this analysis had delivered one or more children and 58 percent reported ever having breastfed. Among these women, 51 percent breastfed for one-six months, 22 percent for seven-12 months and 27 percent for 13 or more months. The average age of the women when they entered the study was 63.7 years; they were followed for 12.6 years.

The good news for breastfeeding moms – after adjusting for non-modifiable stroke risk factors (such as age and family history), researchers found stroke risk among women who breastfed their babies was on average:

23 percent lower in all women,

48 percent lower in black women,

32 percent lower in Hispanic women,

21 percent lower in white women, and

19 percent lower in women who had breastfed for up to six months.

This is really great news! The study results showed the longer you breastfed, the greater reduction in your risk for stroke. Breastfeeding for at least 6 months is recommended to get all the protective benefits from stroke, breast and reproductive cancers.

The more we learn about breastfeeding, the greater the value to our long term health for moms and babies!