New Australian research has found that breastfeeding may help protect women against developing or dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Carried out by researchers at the University of Sydney, the new study looked at data gathered from 100,864 mothers age 45 and over, including information on hospital admissions and death.
All of the women were free from cardiovascular disease at the start of the study.
The findings, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, showed that women who breastfed had a 14 percent lower risk of developing, and a 34 percent lower risk of dying from CVD, compared to women who had children but hadn't breastfed.
The women who had breastfed on average up to 12 months per child also benefited from a 15 percent lower risk of developing and a 30 to 40 percent lower risk of dying from CVD compared to women who never breastfed.
The results also held true even after the researchers had taken into account potentially influencing socio-economic and lifestyle risk factors.
Lead author Dr. Binh Nguyen described the findings as important, especially as heart disease is the leading cause of death for women worldwide.
"Our study suggests that among childbearing women, breastfeeding may offer long-term heart health benefits in addition to its known benefits for infants and mothers," said Dr. Nguyen.
"We know that changing lifestyle factors such as weight and diet can significantly reduce risks of heart disease and we have taken this a step further by looking at lifestyle behaviors that are specific to women."
The researchers also added that the new study supports the findings from a previous study carried out by the same team in 2017, which found evidence that breastfeeding may have a protective effect on CVD risk factors such as high blood pressure.
Senior author Associate Professor Melody Ding added that further research is now needed to investigate why breastfeeding appears to have a protective effect on the heart.
"At this stage we can't pinpoint why but one of the likely theories is that the calories women expend breastfeeding, nearly 500 each day, are associated with positive changes in metabolism which help women that breastfeed to lower their risk of heart disease," said Associate Professor Ding.