Breastfeed and Reduce Breast Cancer Risk – For You and Your Baby

Are you concerned about breast cancer? Most women are. It doesn’t help that women seem to be getting breast cancer at younger ages. The recent news of Christina Applegate’s cancer has many younger women scared.

If you’re breastfeeding, then you can be assured that you’re doing something positive to cut your risk for developing one of the most common forms of cancer among women. And you’re protecting your baby as well.

The World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research (WCRF/AICR) found convincing evidence that breastfeeding protects mothers from developing breast cancer, both before and after menopause. Breastfeeding also protects the breastfed child from developing cancers that are linked with being overweight and obesity. These include post-menopausal breast cancer and cancers of the esophagus, pancreas, colorectum, and kidney.

One reason breastfeeding reduces the mother’s risk for developing breast cancer because it causes her to stop menstruating for many months. Some women do not resume menstruating (and therefore ovulating) until after they stop breastfeeding altogether – even for several months or two years or more. This period of amenorrhea, or absence of menstruation, is a signal that the woman’s hormones have shifted to a state that reduces her chances of developing breast cancer. And the longer a woman breastfeeds, the greater her protection against breast cancer.

Apparently, the natural hormonal changes that women experience during menstruation increase breast cancer risk. This explains why women who have never been pregnant (another period of amenorrhea) have increased risk for breast cancer.

Another way that breastfeeding may protect mothers from breast cancer is by getting rid of breast cells during lactation. These include cells that could develop or already have damaged DNA.

Don’t worry, the damaged cells aren’t harming your baby through your breastmilk. In fact, breastfed babies have reduced risk for developing breast cancer and other forms of cancer. And again, the longer the baby is breastfed, the greater the protective effect.

Breastfeeding is only one of the many ways that you can protect your baby and yourself against cancer. WCRF/AICR gives the following 10 recommendations to help you avoid cancer:

1. Be as lean as possible within the normal range of body weight for your body type.
2. Be physically active as part of everyday life. Exercising three times a week halves your cancer risk.
3. Limit consumption of energy-dense foods. Avoid sugary drinks.
4. Eat mostly foods of plant origin: whole grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes.
5. Limit intake of red meat and avoid processed meats that contain nitrites and nitrates.
6. Limit alcoholic drinks – more than one a day is associated with increased cancer risk.
7. Limit consumption of salt. Avoid moldy cereals (grains) or pulses (legumes).
8. Aim to meet nutritional needs through diet alone, not supplements.
9. Mothers to breastfeed; children to be breastfed.
10. Cancer survivors: Follow the recommendations for cancer.

Remember: The World Health Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recommend exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months. Afterwards, breastfeeding should continue, along with complementary foods, for two years or longer.

Find more about the benefits of breastfeeding – for mom, baby and the rest of the world. And wear a pretty nursing bra while you’re at it!

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