A new but small study on breastfeeding and breast cancer adds to the evidence showing its protective effects for moms, with this study suggesting that breastfeeding may delay the onset of breast cancer for nonsmoking moms who breastfeed for at least six months.
The study was published online in the Journal of Clinical Nursing this week.
AICR’s continuous updates, which examine the global literature, found that breastfeeding directly reduces a mother’s risk of breast cancer; breastfeeding also may indirectly reduce the baby’s risk for cancer in later life, as it may play a role in being a healthy weight.
In this study, about 500 Spanish breast cancer survivors answered questions about breastfeeding, along with their family history, diet, and smoking habits. The women ranged in ages from 19 to 91; they had all been diagnosed and treated for their cancer from 2004 to 2009.
Regardless of family history, the nonsmoking women who breastfed their babies for over six months were diagnosed with breast cancer a decade later than the other women. Continue reading
Breastfeeding provides numerous benefits to babies, including preventing many illnesses. Often overlooked is the benefit moms get from breastfeeding their babies.
Now for the first time, a study published yesterday found that women who followed AICR’s recommendation for breastfeeding reduced their risk of premature death from all diseases.
The study, featured in Cancer Research Update, found that mothers who breastfed their babies for at least six months had a 17 percent reduced risk for early death compared to women who did not breastfeed at all. Even those who breastfed for a shorter duration had about a 13 percent lower risk for early death. Breastfeeding linked to lower risk for early death from both cancer and cardiovascular disease.
We’ve known, from AICR’s expert report and its updates, that lactation reduces breast cancer risk for mom, but this evidence shows it can also help prevent early death. Although the researchers in this study did not discuss why breastfeeding may lower death risk, we do have some ideas as to how it helps lower risk for breast cancer.
- The longer women breastfeed, the fewer menstrual cycles they have and therefore have reduced lifetime exposure to hormones, especially estrogen, that influence breast cancer risk.
- Breast tissue is shed during lactation and for mature cells, there’s programmed cell death. Both decrease cancer risk as cells with potential DNA damage are shed or die.
This is the first study to look at the association between breastfeeding and mortality in the mother. The researchers say more studies need to be done to confirm these findings.
Most moms do want to breastfeed their babies as long as they can, but it can be very challenging to maintain without support. Find help, tips and suggestions for successful breastfeeding at womenshealth.gov.
I’m a mother who works for a cancer prevention charity. I’m a mother who knows that breastfeeding is one of our strongest weapons to protect both the mother and child from cancer later in life. And I’m a mother who struggled to follow AICR’s recommendation to breastfeed infants exclusively up to six months.
What’s made me think about this is New York City’s initiative in participating hospitals to restrict access to infant formula in an effort to encourage breast feeding, and whether this is helpful or intrusive? Here’s one article on the program.
On paper – promoting and encouraging breastfeeding is an easy public health fix. Breast milk is free, portable and always at the right temperature. The reality is more complex.
First, not all women are able to breastfeed – infections, sick infants and difficult home environments are just some of the barriers that make it impossible. Second, our physical environment does not always support women breastfeeding outside the home. The dearth of appropriate facilities and sometimes hostile attitudes makes it difficult for mothers – especially those with older children who cannot be housebound. Third, many women simply cannot afford to be without a paycheck for 6 months and manage the considerable challenge of pumping and freezing sufficient breast milk. Continue reading