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Breastfeeding linked to lower risk of heart disease in women, study finds

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(NEW YORK) -- Breastfeeding has now been linked to another added benefit for moms.

Women who breastfed at some point in their life were less likely to develop heart disease or a stroke or die from cardiovascular disease than women who did not breastfeed, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA), a peer-reviewed journal of the American Heart Association.

The study, which analyzed data from over 1 million women around the world, found that women who breastfed had an 11% reduction in cardiovascular events, a 14% reduction in coronary heart disease, a 12% reduction in strokes and a 17% reduction in fatal cardiovascular events compared to women who never breastfed.

“It’s important for women to be aware of the benefits of breastfeeding for their babies’ health and also their own personal health,” Dr. Peter Willeit, the study's senior author and professor of clinical epidemiology at the Medical University of Innsbruck in Innsbruck, Austria, said in a statement. “Moreover, these findings from high-quality studies conducted around the world highlight the need to encourage and support breastfeeding, such as breastfeeding-friendly work environments, and breastfeeding education and programs for families before and after giving birth.”

The newly-released study found increasing benefit for women who breastfed up to 12 months cumulatively, with the benefits plateauing for any time beyond that.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.

In addition to providing important health benefits for babies, breastfeeding has also been shown to decrease the risks of breast, ovarian, endometrial and thyroid cancers in women, and lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension and rheumatoid arthritis, according to the AAP.

The new findings on the benefits of breastfeeding stand out because heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Heart disease causes about one in every five female deaths in the U.S., according to the CDC.

For women age 20 and older, about 1 in 16 have coronary heart disease.

While breastfeeding has proven health benefits for both babies and moms, whether or not a mom breastfeeds her child should be a "judgment-free zone," according to Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News' chief medical correspondent and a board-certified OBGYN.

"[Breastfeeding] is not possible or desirable for every new mom, and this should be a judgment-free zone," said Ashton. "Obstetricians, midwives, pediatricians – our job is to educate and inform. It is that mother’s job to decide what she feels is best for her baby."

Siobhan Deshauer, M.D., FRCP, a resident in the ABC News Medical Unit, contributed to this report.

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