YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — The American Heart Association says research shows breastfeeding can have long-term cardiovascular health benefits.

According to findings from a January 2022 study, researchers found that women who breastfed at some point during their lives were 17% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than those who had never breastfed.

The analysis included health data from nearly 1.2 million women from eight studies conducted between 1986 and 2009 in Australia, China, Norway, Japan and the United States, as well one international study.

Over a 10-year average follow-up period, those who breastfed were 14% less likely to develop heart disease, 12% less likely to have strokes and 11% less likely to develop cardiovascular disease. Those who breastfed up to 12 months during their lifetime had lower risks.

The benefits, the study finds, aren’t limited to just maternal health. According to another study from 2021, babies who consumed breastmilk even for a few days showed lower blood pressure readings at 3 years of age compared to those who had never consumed it.

“We know that cardiovascular disease risk factors — including high blood pressure, can start in childhood, so giving a baby breastmilk even for a few days in infancy is a good start to a heart-healthy life,” says Dr. Rahul Sinha, cardiologist and medical director of the Mercy Health Congestive Heart Failure Clinic. “People who breastfeed their babies are taking steps to improve their own heart health, as well, so it’s definitely an option to strongly consider.”

The American Heart Association recommends breastfeeding for 12 months, transitioning to additional sources of nutrients beginning at 4 to 6 months of age to ensure sufficient dietary needs are met.

However, assistant professor of cardiology at the Zucker School of Medicine Dr. Maria Avila acknowledges that not all parents want to breastfeed and this is OK, too. She says even expressed or donated breastmilk fed via bottle can also help babies get the important nutrients and heart-healthy benefits.

If none of those are options, Avila recommends using iron-fortified infant formula.

For additional information on dietary recommendations for children, visit heart.org/healthy-living.