New research indicates that infants who are breastfed have lower levels of cholesterol in later life, and that nursing mothers have a lesser risk of breast cancer.
The study shows that thousands of lives can be saved if all women breastfed their babies exclusively for the recommended six months.
Lower cholesterol levels reduce the risk of developing heart disease in later life.
In order to reach the conclusion, a review of data from over 17,000 adults was conducted by researchers at St George's University of London, and it was found that those who were breastfed exclusively had lower cholesterol than those only fed on formula.
Thought the effect on the individual was relatively small, across the whole population, it was calculated that if everyone were breastfed as babies there were be a 5 per cent reduction in cases of coronary artery disease.
"The paper concludes that initial breastfeeding, particularly when exclusive, is associated with lower blood cholesterol concentrations in later life, compared to initial formula feeding," Telegraph quoted study author Dr Chris Owen, Epidemiologist at St George's, University of London, said
All women should breastfeed if they can, he said, because of the proven long-term health benefits.
Women who breastfeed have a lower risk of breast cancer and babies are also less likely to be obese, have eczema, and have fewer ear infections.
The study has been published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition's (ACJN) August edition.
Dr Owen said: "This study provides further evidence that breast feeding has long-term health benefits. Apart from all its other effects, it appears to lower blood cholesterol in later life.
"The results also suggest that formula feeds should match the context of breast milk as closely as possible - any attempt to reduce the fat content of formula feeds could be counter-productive."