You've heard before about how healthy breast-feeding is for your baby. But what if it could aid your long-term health, too?
The latest findings published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association suggest that breast-feeding could reduce a mother's risk for developing a heart attack and stroke later in her life. Specifically, the Chinese study discovered breast-feeding mothers lowered their heart disease or stroke risk by approximately 10 percent.
It's important to note that the study was just observational (i.e. no cause-and-effect conclusions are available).
While short-term health benefits have been known – think weight loss and lower cholesterol – the long-term effects haven't been clear when it comes to cardiovascular diseases in mothers. University of Oxford, the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking University researchers took into account data from 289,573 Chinese women, average age of 51, for the study.
That data came from another study, where women (almost all were mothers, and none of them had cardiovascular disease) provided details regarding their reproductive history and lifestyle factors. There were 16,671 cases of coronary heart disease (including heart attacks) and 23,983 cases of stroke within eight years of follow-up. Mothers who breast-fed saw a 9 percent lower heart disease risk and an 8 percent lower stroke risk, all compared to those who had never breast-fed. Those who breast-fed for two years or more saw an 18 percent lower heart disease risk and 17 percent lower stroke risk.
Researchers accounted for cardiovascular disease risk factors like smoking, obesity and diabetes when putting together these results. Live Science notes the study couldn't account for factors like women's diet that might contribute to heart disease risk.
As for what researchers hope comes out of this? More breast-feeding.
"The findings should encourage more widespread breast-feeding for the benefit of the mother as well as the child," Zhengming Chen, senior study author and professor of epidemiology at the University of Oxford, said in a statement. "The study provides support for the World Health Organization's recommendation that mothers should breast-feed their babies exclusively for their first six months of life.
"Although there is increasing recognition of the importance of exclusive breast-feeding, genuine commitment from policy makers is needed to implement strategies in the healthcare system, communities and families and the work environment that promote and support every woman to breast-feed," the authors wrote.