The benefits of breastfeeding for both mothers and babies have been well-documented in the past.
Previous research shows children who are breastfed have lower death rates, less risk of infection and higher IQs.
Breastfeeding can also help reduce a mother’s risk of ovarian cancer, cut a mother’s diabetes risk and help with weight loss.
Still, previous research has seen mixed results when it comes to the long-term benefits of breastfeeding on a mother’s heart health.
A new study from a team of researchers in China and the University of Oxford, however, suggests breastfeeding could reduce a mother’s risk of heart attack and stroke.
The scientists analyzed 289,573 women in China for the observational study, published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
The data came from a separate study in which the women (almost all mothers and none with cardiovascular disease) provided details about their reproductive history and other lifestyle factors, including smoking habits, obesity, physical activity and more.
Ninety-seven percent of the women breastfed each of their babies for an average of 12 months — a huge distinction from the rate in the U.S., where only 30 percent of mothers in 2016 did the same.
The American Heart Association recommends mothers should breastfeed for 12 months if possible.
Within eight years, researchers noted 16,671 cases of coronary heart disease and 23,983 cases of stroke.
The researchers found breastfeeding mothers lowered their risk of heart disease or stroke by approximately 10 percent when compared to mothers who never breastfed.
And mothers who breastfed their babies for two years or more lowered their risk of heart disease or stroke by approximately 18 percent.
Furthermore, each additional six months of breastfeeding (per baby) led to a 4 percent and 3 percent decrease in risk of heart disease and stroke, correspondingly.
Due to the study’s observational nature, however, the research does not prove cause and effect.
And, as LiveScience notes, the researchers couldn’t account for other factors that could contribute to heart disease risk such as the women's diets.
But researchers hope the numbers shed some light on the longterm heart benefits of breastfeeding.
“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.”
The authors call for more research to confirm the findings and seek commitment from policy makers to execute strategies in the workplace, healthcare system and communities that both promote and support breastfeeding.