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Breastfeeding Duration and Female Mortality

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4 min read


Breastfeeding duration significantly influences maternal health. Read this article to know its effects on female mortality.

Written by

Dr. Preethi. R

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Vrinda Khemani

Published At March 28, 2023
Reviewed AtApril 3, 2024


Breast milk is the most essential nutritional need for newborns and is associated with numerous benefits for both the child and the mother. Breastfeeding maintains maternal health and prevents long-term disease conditions. It is proven that breastfeeding over a period of time significantly reduces the maternal risk of developing chronic diseases. However, its association with maternal mortality has not been widely discussed. This article helps in assessing the correlation between the duration of breastfeeding and its influence on maternal mortality.

What Is the Optimal Breastfeeding Duration?

Longer duration of breastfeeding enhances the benefits of lactation by improving the baby’s survival, growth, development, and long-term health. Standardized guidelines have been formulated by worldwide health organizations to ensure optimal breastfeeding duration.

  • The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that infants should be exclusively breastfed during the first six months of their neonatal life.

  • After the initial six months, breastfeeding should be continued along with the introduction of solid complementary foods up to or above 12 months of age.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics as well as the World Health Organization recommend exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months, with continued breastfeeding up to or more than two years of age along with appropriate solid foods.

  • Woman's lifetime breastfeeding duration including all consecutive child births are also collectively calculated to assess the duration of breastfeeding.

  • Lactating mothers should breastfeed their babies for a minimum of at least one year because longer breastfeeding duration provides greater protection from certain illnesses and also reduces the risk of long-term diseases in children.

  • Greater the months and years a woman breastfeeds, which covers combined breastfeeding of all her children greatly increase its benefits on maternal health.

  • According to the World Health Organization, women breastfeeding below 24 months per infant is considered suboptimal breastfeeding.

How Do Lactating Mothers Benefit From Breastfeeding?

Numerous scientific data are available to elicit the benefits of breastfeeding in a child’s growth and development. Similarly, lactation and breastfeeding improve the mother’s health, protect her against certain illnesses, and promote long-term wellness. This perspective of maternal health is often poorly studied. Recently, research and clinical studies are conducted to study the influence of breastfeeding on maternal well-being. Some of the proven benefits of breastfeeding on maternal health are as follows -

  • Breastfeeding lowers the risk of developing certain types of cancers such as breast cancer, and ovarian cancer.

  • It prevents the development of metabolic disorders such as obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

  • Breastfeeding reduces maternal cardiovascular risk factors by preventing high blood pressure.

  • Longer duration of breastfeeding effectively reduces long-term cardiovascular complications such as hypertensive diseases and myocardial infarction.

  • Increased episodes of breastfeeding contribute to postpartum (after childbirth) weight loss.

  • Breastfeeding contributes to positive maternal mental well-being and reduces postpartum depression.

What Are the Lifestyle Factors That Influence Breastfeeding and Maternal Health?

Breastfeeding is not an isolated factor that influences maternal health. Lifestyle conditions have a greater impact on breastfeeding duration and also women’s well being particularly after childbirth. Some of the lifestyle factors that affect both breastfeeding and female mortality are as follows -

  • Cigarette smoking increases the mortality risk in women. In addition, it also reduces the lactation duration leading to early cessation of breastfeeding.

  • Appropriate nutrition is essential for longer breastfeeding duration.

  • Lack of physical activity eventually leads to being overweight or obese which increases mortality risk.

  • Maternal age also significantly influences both breastfeeding duration and maternal mortality.

How Does Breastfeeding Reduce Mortality Risk in Females?

From the scientific evidence, it is observed that this inverse relationship between breastfeeding duration and female mortality risk is attributed to the physiological changes that occur during pregnancy followed by lactation and breastfeeding. The following biological factors that occur during breastfeeding help in reducing the mortality risk in females.

  • Hormonal changes and subsequent fat accumulation occur during various stages of pregnancy that are required for fetal development and preparation for lactation.

  • This increased energy storage is needed along the course of childbirth and is characterized by increased visceral fat deposition.

  • Gradual increase in fat increases insulin resistance and impairs insulin production causing elevated circulating lipid levels that are considered risk factors for various metabolic disorders, and long-term illnesses.

  • Lactation and breastfeeding play a crucial role in reverting these risk factors back to normal by mobilizing stored fat.

  • Increased duration of breastfeeding helps to reestablish glucose homeostasis and regulate insulin secretion.

  • Lipid metabolism is promoted after delivery, and breastfeeding further improves glucose metabolism and enhances pancreatic beta-cell activity.

  • Continuous breastfeeding and lactation establish favorable lipid profiles, enhance postpartum weight loss and reduce the risk of developing metabolic diseases.

  • Thus, breastfeeding plays a key role in reestablishing normal maternal metabolic functioning.

  • Breastfeeding increases metabolic expenditure and thereby reduces the risk of developing long-term diseases such as cardiovascular disorders and cancer and thereby eventually reduces the risk of female mortality in later stages of life.

What Are the Consequences of Suboptimal Breastfeeding?

Suboptimal breastfeeding refers to the practice of breastfeeding which falls short of the optimal medical recommendations suggested by worldwide organizations. Inadequate breastfeeding has a negative impact on both maternal as well as children’s well-being. Recent studies show that nearly 80 % of maternal mortality correlates to suboptimal breastfeeding. Some of the ill effects of suboptimal breastfeeding on maternal health are as follows -

  • Increased risk of developing breast cancer.

  • Inadequate breastfeeding or premature cessation leads to the early development of type 2 diabetes in women.

  • There is a higher risk of developing maternal hypertension and heart problems such as myocardial infarction in the later years among women who breastfeed their babies less than the recommended duration.

  • Partial breastfeeding leads to obesity and increases the risk of premenopausal (at an early age) ovarian cancer.

  • Suboptimal breastfeeding, particularly in western countries, is currently associated with excessive and premature maternal deaths.

  • Unnecessary early cessation of breastfeeding increases postpartum depression.


Longer breastfeeding duration is protective against several diseases such as breast or ovarian cancer, diabetes, and heart problems. Inadequate breastfeeding leads to the development of maternal health problems. To summarize, lactating women who have a longer breastfeeding duration have a substantially lower risk of mortality.

Frequently Asked Questions


Which Cancer Diagnosis Has the Highest Mortality Rate in Females?

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in females. It is the second type of cancer that causes high mortality in females. The cancer that has shown the highest mortality in women is lung cancer. This can also be attributed to passive smoking.


Which Cancer Screening Is Recommended for Older Adults?

Cancer screening tests help to identify any traces of cancerous cells in the body. Early detection of the condition helps in appropriate treatment and increases the prognosis. Yearly mammograms are recommended in women over 45 years to diagnose breast cancer. Other screening recommended may include screening for cervical cancer, colorectal cancer, and lung cancer.


Does Breast Cancer Screening Reduce Mortality?

Breast cancer screening has helped in the early diagnosis of the condition. This increases the prognosis and helps to recover faster. As a result, mortality rates decline. Hence, screening for breast cancer reduces the mortality rates in women.


How Are Infant Mortality Rates and Low Female Literacy Related?

The infant mortality rate is inversely related to female literacy rate. As the female literacy rate increases, the infant mortality rate decreases. Care in nutrition, health care, and economic independence becomes a part of a woman as she becomes literate. She learns to handle herself and her family better as she gets educated.


How Long Does It Take for Milk to Replenish After Breastfeeding?

It takes about twenty to thirty minutes to generate milk after a feed. It can take about an hour to replenish after a feed. The production of breastmilk increases with demand. The more the baby is breastfed, the more milk is produced.


What Medicine Can Be Taken for a Cold While Breastfeeding?

Medicines like Robitussin, Delsym, Triaminic, and Vicks DayQuil cough are safer during lactation. They do not affect the milk supply. It has not been reported for any harm to the baby as well. Lozenges for sore throat and over-the-counter gargles can be used if medicines are not preferred.


How Much Water Should a Breastfeeding Mother Drink in a Day?

A normal human is recommended to drink about 1.5 to 2 L of water a day. A lactating mother should, however, drink at least one liter more. This can vary depending on the climate of the place and the child’s needs. The quality of milk can be increased by having a well-nourished and balanced diet.


How Can Milk Production be Stopped if Not Breastfeeding?

Avoid anything that can stimulate the production of breast milk. Medicines can be taken under the supervision of a healthcare professional. Gradually reduce the number of feeding, pumping, or expressing breastmilk. Applying cold packs and cabbage leaves on the breasts has helped to dry up the milk supply.


How Can Engorged Breasts Be Avoided When Not Breastfeeding?

The breast should be well supported by supportive underwear. Applying a cold pack can help to reduce the milk supply. Gradually, as the number of feed reduces, the milk supply will reduce, decreasing the heaviness.


How Much Extra Calorie Intake Is Advisable During Breastfeeding?

An addition of 300 to 400 kilocalories is advisable for a well-nourished lactating mother. This sums up to a total of 1500 to 1800 kilocalories in a day. Moreover, care must be taken to consume a healthy and well-nourished diet. This helps in the growth and development of the baby.
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Dr. Vrinda Khemani
Dr. Vrinda Khemani

Obstetrics and Gynecology


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