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Why Breastfeeding Prevents Breast Cancer

You probably have a hundred and one reasons to breastfeed your baby. Breastmilk provides a full spectrum of protein, fats, and vitamins for growth and development, and it can be digested more easily than formula. Furthermore, breastmilk contains the antibodies your baby needs to fight off bacteria and viruses, lowers the risk of your baby getting allergies or asthma, and contributes to continued health later in life.

But have you thought about the way breastfeeding could benefit you? Recent research has revealed that breastfeeding can lower the risk of breast cancer. Currently, 4 out of 5 infants born in America will be breastfed, but only 1 in 4 will be breastfed for a length of 6 months or longer. There are also disparities in groups that breastfeed their children. Black Americans, for instance, are 15 percent less likely to breastfeed their babies than Whites. Coincidentally, Black, and African American women are much more likely to get breast cancer.

Therefore, if you haven’t considered breastfeeding your baby or are wondering if you should continue on, then keep reading. We’ve gathered evidence to keep you informed and help you make a healthier decision.

Recommended Length of Breastfeeding

The question of whether to breastfeed or not is personal, and no one should force you to do something you are uncomfortable with. However, you have to consider the benefits of extended breastfeeding, especially if you want to reduce your risk of cancer. Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that it is best for infants to be exclusively fed breastmilk for the first 6 months in order to get the maximum benefit. The longer a child is breastfed (up to 1 year), the better.

After 6 months, your breastmilk will only provide about half of your baby’s nutritional needs. From there, you can introduce other foods.

Current Theories About Breast Cancer and Breastfeeding

Now, how do those 6 months spent breastfeeding work to your advantage? Let’s look at some research. In 2017, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICF) partnered with the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) to report that 5 months of breastfeeding was associated with a 2 percent decrease in the risk of developing breast cancer. The AICF/WCRF partnership drew this conclusion from a meta-analysis of 13 separate studies looking at a total of 11,610 women [1].

The panel stated several hypotheses about how this significant drop in cancer risk could occur. First, they said that it could be delayed menstruation caused by breastfeeding that reduces exposure to estrogen. In turn, this lowers the potential of estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer.

Another study mentioned by the panel hypothesized that breastfeeding could help the body shed breast tissues that were damaged, thereby reducing the amount of potentially cancerous cells. Lastly, It was stated that breastfeeding could alter certain genes in breast tissue, making them less susceptible to cancer.

Additional Research

Other groundbreaking research has been conducted to look at the relationship between breastfeeding and cancer risk. For instance, a study from 2016 discussed the variances of breast cancer throughout the world. It stated that women in less developed countries or with lower socioeconomic status usually breastfeed their children longer, and that can contribute to reduced incidences of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and even type 2 diabetes [2].

Another study from the Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer looked at the changes in a woman who breastfed for a period of 12 months. They found that her risk of breast cancer dropped by 4.3 percent [3]. Though this is a very small study, it does coincide with other aforementioned findings.

To further this, Australian researchers concluded that women who breastfed for around 13 months saw a 63 percent decrease in the risk of ovarian cancer. Moreover, women who breastfed multiple children for 31 months or longer reduced their ovarian cancer risk by more than 90 percent [4].

How awesome is that?

Breastfeeding Protects Your Baby, Too

You won’t be breastfeeding just for yourself either. Evidence has shown that, while you reduce your risk of cancer by a greater percentage every month, your child also benefits. This is because breastfed babies have a reduced risk of obesity than those fed on formula. And when you are less susceptible to obesity, you also have less of a chance of breast, pancreatic, endometrial, rectal, kidney, and esophageal cancers.

You can thank the antibodies your body passes to your baby for that! And your child will thank you too. Remember, breastmilk can help protect your baby from things like ear infections, allergies, respiratory and digestive issues.

Final Thoughts

There are many established reasons to commit to breastfeeding for at least 6 months. Not only do you ensure that your baby is starting a long life off on the right foot, but you also benefit. Although breastfeeding can be a challenge, you will ultimately reduce your risk of breast cancer and other health problems.

If you have questions about breastfeeding, you can contact a lactation consultant to help you choose the best path forward. Check out our other blogs, too. We have a lot of useful information on our site.

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