The Link Between Breastfeeding and Osteoarthritis

on March 26, 2018

Motherhood is physically demanding yet emotionally rewarding at the same time. Mothers often feel duty-bound to push their limits time and again in order to ensure that the needs of their children and family are met. However, these sacrifices might not only result in short-term body aches and soreness but may even progress to a debilitating disease later in life.

It is widely known that women are generally prone to develop bone diseases such as osteoporosis due to the effects of hormonal and physical changes that the body undergoes as they age. In fact, data from the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) has shown that 80% of the 8 million Americans diagnosed with osteoporosis are women. Osteoporosis, however, isn’t the only musculoskeletal disease that you should be wary of.

Link Between Breastfeeding and Osteoarthritis

breastfeeding and osteoarthritis

Just like osteoporosis, osteoarthritis (OA) is also more common in women than in men. Aside from the usual causes such as obesity and joint overuse, a new study has shown that breastfeeding also increases your chance of developing osteoarthritis.

Understanding Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is considered the most common joint disorder in the United States and is commonly seen in women and the older adult population. It is a degenerative joint disease usually caused when excessive stress is placed on the joints via excess weight bearing or as a result of overuse. This leads to microtrauma and destruction and erosion of the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones at the joint. Inflammation follows, narrowing the space between the two bones. Symptoms include pain, swelling, stiffness, and limitation of movement as the bone ends rub together.

Read more: 11 Ways to Deal Pregnancy Aches and Pains

Breastfeeding benefits

Breastfeeding is generally recommended for up to two years after childbirth. Aside from promoting a strong bond between the mother and the child, it has many other health benefits:

Benefits of breastfeeding to the child:

  • Stronger immune system. The child has lower chances of having asthma, eczema, allergies, childhood leukemia, diarrhea, respiratory diseases, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

  • Fewer cavities

  • Facilitates brain development

  • Lower risk of developing diabetes mellitus

  • Less likely to have speech problems

  • Lower chances of becoming obese in later life

Read more: Benefits of Breastfeeding for Your Baby

Benefits of breastfeeding to the mother:

  • Stimulates the uterus to return to normal size

  • Lower risk of postpartum complications such as anemia, postpartum bleeding, urinary tract infection (UTI), and postpartum depression.

  • Facilitates faster weight loss as the body burns more calories to maintain milk production.

  • Promotes stress reduction due to the release of oxytocin and prolactin hormones.

Read more: 31 Breastfeeding Benefits for Mom and Baby

Breastfeeding and osteoarthritis

Research has shown that women who breastfeed for one month and longer have 21% higher chances of developing osteoarthritis when they reach their senior years. This is being attributed to the prolonged deficiency in estrogen, the primary hormone in women.

After the delivery of the baby, the level of progesterone and estrogen drops in order to allow your body to produce prolactin, the hormone responsible for milk production. Similarly, the estrogen level in women also drops after menopause and estrogen deficiency has been linked to the development of osteoarthritis in both of these conditions.

Although a more thorough study is needed to further substantiate the results of the study, the statistical relationship cannot be ignored altogether. As a woman and as a mother, it is better to be proactive and observe preventive measures against osteoarthritis.

Read more: 21 Must Have Foods in Your Breastfeeding Diet

Tips to prevent osteoarthritis

It can be said that the benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh the risks. Moreover, osteoarthritis can be a multifactorial disease; observing the following tips can help prevent its development without having to forego breastfeeding:

Be physically active. Doing 30 minutes of moderate physical activity can help keep your joints healthy and the muscles that stabilize your bones and joints stronger. You can also do low-impact exercises such as yoga and swimming to prevent adding too much stress on the body after birth. Remember to wear a supportive brace for exercise to reduce the strain on your knees.

Be creative in caring for your baby. When breastfeeding, sit in a comfortable chair instead of standing on your feet. As your baby grows, carrying them in your arms the whole day might put too much stress on your joints. Be creative and think of alternative ways to get your child’s attention.

Read more: 7 Best Positions to Breastfeed Your Baby

Maintain an ideal body weight. Being overweight can strain your joints, thus it’s important to maintain an ideal weight. If you need to lose some pounds, don’t do drastic diets. Instead, make small but achievable changes in the way you eat. Seek the help of a dietician if necessary and monitor your progress using a reliable weighing scale.

Get adequate sleep and rest. Getting a good night’s sleep and rest are just as crucial as doing physical activities in preventing osteoarthritis. Doctors learned that poor sleep patterns can lead to struggles with managing joint pains.

Caring for your baby can be challenging and getting adequate rest, sleep, and even eating can be hard. You can ask your husband, a caregiver, or a trusted family member to help you care for your baby. Never neglect your physical health as it can also affect your baby’s wellbeing.

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