Two is the magic number — at least when it comes to reducing your risk of heart disease. A Swedish study that followed 1.3 million women for as long as 23 years, and an average of 9 and a half found that those who’d given birth twice were at the lowest risk for cardovascular disease after the age of 50.
Those at highest risk 60 percent higher — had given birth five or more times. It’s not a matter of “the fewer births, the better,” though. Giving birth once, three times, or never added a 10 percent higher risk of heart disease. Four births correlated with a 30 percent increase in risk.
Pregnancy complications, such as high blood pressure and pregnancy-related diabetes, or birth-related complications did not explain the link between number of births and later heart disease and stroke risk.
Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm noted that pregnancy leads to significant changes in how blood flows in and through blood vessels. That can alter risk for heart disease and stroke. It’s hoped that studying these changes can lead to a greater understanding of heart disease in women.
This study is significant because of its size and the conclusive nature of its findings. Most other studies have been small and had conflicting results. Given that Sweden has genrous health care and maternity leave granted to all citizens, I do wonder if the results would be the same here.