Have you ever wondered how to reduce your likelihood of developing breast cancer? Mothers who make one simple decision might have a leg up on their counterparts. To mark World Breastfeeding Week, the first week of August, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) highlighted one of the least recognized findings from its latest report: mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of breast cancer. The difference is modest, but the lower risk is valid motivation to breastfeed for moms who are able.
“It isn’t always possible for moms to breastfeed, but for those who can, know that breastfeeding can offer cancer protection for both the mother and the child,” said AICR’s Director of Nutrition Programs Alice Bender, MS, RDN.
Research also shows that babies who are breastfed are less likely to gain excess weight as they grow. Among adults, AICR research shows that obesity increases the risk of 11 common cancers. Obesity is largely believed to be associated with youth eating habits and dietary developments at birth; aside from cancer, this is one of the largest, ongoing epidemics in the world today.
AICR offers some recommendations to new mothers opting to breastfeed exclusively. To begin, you must breastfeed for up to six months and then, after that length of time, begin to add other liquids and foods to your child’s diet. This advice is in line with the recommendations of other health organizations, including the World Health Organization. Breastfeeding provides the nutrients that babies need, helps protect them from infections and asthma, and boosts their immune system.
AICR’s report updating the global scientific evidence on breast cancer identified and reviewed 18 studies on lactation. Thirteen of these studies focused on the length of time, showing a 2 percent decreased risk per 5-month increase in breastfeeding duration.
There are several possible ways that breastfeeding may influence breast cancer risk. Lactation may delay a new mother’s menstrual periods, reducing lifetime exposure to hormones like estrogen, which is linked to risk; the shedding of breast tissue after lactation may also help rid cells with DNA damage.
Diet, nutrition, physical activity and many other lifestyle factors are linked to breast cancer risk. Staying a healthy weight, avoiding alcohol and being physically active were also found to lower the risk of this cancer.
“With the many benefits of breastfeeding, it’s important that new moms get support to successfully breastfeed for longer than a few days or weeks,” says Bender. “It’s also critical to know there are steps all women can take to lower the risk of this cancer.”