Breastfeeding Can Cut Your Risk of Cancer

Maureen Robb's picture
By Maureen Robb on August 9, 2017

Did you know that breastfeeding your baby can reduce the lifetime risk of cancer for both of you?

It also offers other health benefits, such as helping moms lose weight after birth (they burn more calories), while the antibodies in breast milk help babies fight infections.

“Mothers and babies receive multiple benefits from breastfeeding,” said Heather Greer, M.D., a Carilion Clinic obstetrician and gynecologist.

For women, breastfeeding suppresses menstruation and ovulation, thus reducing a woman’s exposure to estrogen. Mothers who breastfeed also shed damaged breast tissue. According to Dr. Greer, both reduce a woman’s risk for breast cancer

“If a woman can breastfeed for 12 months or more, it reduces her lifetime risk of breast cancer by 4.3 percent,” she noted. “Since a woman’s lifetime risk for breast cancer is 12.4 percent, you’re almost reducing it by a third. That’s significant.”

A woman can get this benefit by either nursing one child for 12 months, or two or more babies for a total period of over a year. Breastfeeding can also lower a mother’s risk for ovarian cancer.

“The ovaries are less active when a woman is breastfeeding and are less likely to mutate and cause cancer,” Dr. Greer pointed out.

Babies in turn reap many benefits. They are at reduced risk for infections, allergies and obesity, and as adults, they have a lower lifetime risk for these cancers:

  • Breast
  • Kidney
  • Pancreatic
  • Esophageal
  • Colon
  • Rectal

“Babies who breastfeed go on to be healthier as children and young adults,” said Dr. Greer. “And we know that while it’s not always easy for a mother to breastfeed, the results are worth it.”

For mothers who are having trouble, Dr. Greer suggests following up with their doctor or a lactation consultant at their hospital after discharge. Women can also seek help from the support networks many communities offer.

“Happily, there are many resources available now to help new mothers learn how to breastfeed.”

Not least among the benefits, of course, is the bonding that takes place between mother and child. Many would argue that it alone is priceless.

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