Q: Are there any health problems a mother might face because she did not or could not breastfeed? — C.L., Orlando
A: There are a number of diseases linked to women who never breastfed: high blood pressure, diabetes, elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, heart disease, ovarian and breast cancers and metabolic syndrome (a group of conditions that includes obesity, high triglycerides, low HDL “good” cholesterol and a pre-diabetic state of elevated fasting blood sugar). The reasons are not clear, but some proposed explanations include greater weight retained after pregnancy; absence of oxytocin (milk-stimulating) hormone production results in higher blood pressure and pulse rate; women who are not breastfeeding have higher cortisol hormone levels in response to stress, which can cause higher blood sugar, blood pressure and weight gain; and women who are obese and/or diabetic have pre-existing health problems and a more difficult time producing milk.
Dr. Mitchell Hecht is a physician specializing in internal medicine. Send questions to him at: “Ask Dr. H,” P.O. Box 767787, Roswell, GA 30076. Because of the large volume of mail received, personal replies are not possible.