Breastfeeding: Can nursing cause elevated cholesterol levels?

I have been nursing my daughter, exclusively, for 11 months. Recently, I had some blood work done and my cholesterol was elevated. Is there a link between breastfeeding and these higher levels?


Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

During pregnancy, lipids and cholesterol levels fall in the first trimester and then rise throughout the remainder of your pregnancy. Increases in serum triglycerides, cholesterol, and free fatty acids are seen. This is not related to diet. The liver (the organ responsible for making most of our cholesterol) produces more cholesterol in response to the hormones of pregnancy.

Cholesterol levels can be very high during pregnancy and while nursing. Normal levels for total cholesterol are between 120 and 190 mg/dl, while typical values in pregnancy range from between 200 and 325 mg/dl. Nursing women also have higher levels of HDL and other beneficial lipoproteins. It’s not recommended to have a lipid screening during lactation; it’s also been found that the effects of lactation on lipids are beneficial.

Women of childbearing age are generally at very low risk for developing heart disease. You shouldn't totally ignore your elevated levels, but, keeping in mind the recommendation to put off testing of lipids during lactation, share this information with your doctor. You should also plan on having your levels retested once you've weaned. Keep in mind these more significant risk factors for heart disease: smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, family history of heart disease, being postmenopausal, and obesity.


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