Research shows women who nurse may have reduced stroke risk.

A new study from the American Heart Association shows that breastfeeding isn’t just good for babies; it’s good for moms’ brains, too.

According to the new research, published Aug. 22 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, women who breastfeed at least one child may have a reduced risk for stroke. That’s significant because stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death in women age 65 and older—third for Hispanic and African-American women, study data state.

“Some studies have reported that breastfeeding may reduce the rates of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in mothers. Recent findings point to the benefits of breastfeeding on heart disease and other specific cardiovascular risk factors,” said Lisette T. Jacobson, Ph.D., M.P.A., M.A., in the AHA announcement. Jacobson is the study’s lead author and an assistant professor in the department of preventive medicine and public health at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita.

For the study, researchers examined data on more than 80,000 mothers who are part of the Women’s Health Initiative, an observational study that tracks postmenopausal women. All of those included in the AHA study results had at least one child, and 58 percent had breastfed: 51 percent of them for one to six months, 22 percent for seven to 12 months and 27 percent for 13 months or longer.

After adjusting for risk factors such as age and family history, researchers concluded that stroke risk among women who had breastfed was, on average, 23 percent lower. Women who breastfed longer, the study found, seemed to have a greater reduction in risk. Risk was deemed 48 percent lower among African-Americans, 32 percent lower in Hispanics, 21 percent lower in whites and 19 percent lower in women who had breastfed for six months or less.

Researchers cautioned that the study does not establish a cause-and-effect relationship since it was observational in nature, so another characteristic could be the factor responsible for the reduced stroke risk.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization recommend babies be exclusively breastfed for six months, with breastfeeding continuing for a year or more. The AHA recommends breastfeeding for 12 months and adding other foods at four to six months.

Read the full study at ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/jaha.118.008739.