WOMEN who have breastfed at least one child are less likely to suffer a stroke later in life, new research has shown.
Other studies have found that breastfeeding may reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and Type 2 diabetes.
The latest finding emerged from data on more than 80,000 women with an average age of 63.7 in the US.
All were participants in the Women’s Health Initiative, a large on-going study of health and lifestyle in post-menopausal women.
Every one of the women had given birth, and just over half (58 per cent) reported ever having breastfed.
The study found stroke risk was a fifth (23 per cent) lower in women who had breastfed compared with those who had not.
More time spent breastfeeding was associated with a greater reduction in risk.
Lead researcher Dr Lisette Jacobson, from the University of Kansas, said: ‘Recent findings point to the benefits of breastfeeding on heart disease and other specific cardiovascular risk factors.
‘If you are pregnant, please consider breastfeeding as part of your birthing plan and continue to breastfeed for at least six months to receive the optimal benefits for you and your infant.’
Protection against stroke associated with breastfeeding was greater in some ethnic groups than others, the study found.
For white Caucasian women, the risk reduction was 21 per cent, but for black women it was 48 per cent and for Hispanic women 32 per cent.
The research had only demonstrated an association between breastfeeding and lower stroke risk and not a cause-and-effect relationship, the scientists pointed out.
Dr Jacobson added: ‘Breastfeeding is only one of many factors that could potentially protect against stroke. Others include getting adequate exercise, choosing healthy foods, not smoking and seeking treatment if needed to keep your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar in the normal range.’
The research is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.