It's well established that breastfeeding confers a wide range of health benefits to both mother and baby. For instance, a mother's risk of obesity, breast and ovarian cancer, and osteoporosis go down if she nursed, reports the Independent. But now researchers report in the Journal of the American Heart Association that breastfeeding positively impacts heart health years down the road, too. Analyzing data from nearly 300,000 women ages 30 to 79 in China, 99% of whom had given birth and 97% of whom had breastfed, they found that after 8 years of study, breastfeeding mothers had a 9% lower risk of heart disease and an 8% lower risk of stroke when compared to their non-breastfeeding counterparts. Those figures grew the longer a women nursed her child.
The researchers calculated that each additional six months of breastfeeding reduces a woman's risk of cardiovascular disease by 4 percentage points, with mothers who breastfeed their babies for two or more years enjoying a nearly 20% reduced risk compared to mothers who never did. In a press release, study co-author Sanna Peters speculates that because a woman's metabolism changes dramatically after giving birth to store fat for milk, breastfeeding could help run through that stored fat "faster and more completely." CDC stats show only about 31% of US babies are still being breast-fed at one year. (Here's why pumping doesn't appear as beneficial.)