Breastfeeding: Is breast health affected by breastfeeding?

Did you know that breastfeeding is good for mothers as well as babies? Women who breastfeed for as little as three months are 20 percent less likely to develop premenopausal breast cancer as women who artificially feed their babies from birth (Chilvers 1994). Breastfeeding is not merely a lifestyle choice, but an important health consideration for both mother and baby.

Though we have come a long way in our understanding of the benefits of breastfeeding, we still have much to learn. Breastfeeding is often overlooked as a simple way of reducing your risk of developing breast cancer. More and more clinical studies are pointing strongly toward the protective effect of breastfeeding against the development of breast cancer.

  • A recent study found that women who nursed their babies had half the risk of breast cancer. Researchers found a direct relationship between the duration of breastfeeding, number of children, and the incidence of breast cancer. Breast cancer was reduced in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women who practiced extended breastfeeding. "The declining trend in fertility and lactation among Mexican women could lead to a major epidemic of breast cancer such as that observed in Western countries" (Romieu 1996).
  • An article published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that if all mothers nursed for a total of two years, the incidence of breast cancer in the U.S. would be reduced by 25 percent. If women who do not breastfeed, or who breastfed for less than three months, would nurse for between four and twelve months, breast cancer among premenopausal mothers could be reduced by 11 percent. Researchers studied women who have never nursed, as well as those who nursed for varying lengths of time. The authors write, "An increasing duration of lactation was associated with a statistically significant trend toward a reduced risk of breast cancer" (Newcomb 1994).
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