October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so breast health is on my mind. As you may know, breast cancer is a common cancer for women in the United States, but fortunately, early detection and evolving treatment are increasing survival rates. There is hope!
However, if there were another way to reduce your risk of breast cancer, wouldn't you want to know?
Breastfeeding lowers a woman's breast cancer risk.
Check out this statement from the Susan G. Komen Foundation:
"In a pooled analysis of data from 47 studies, mothers who breastfed for a lifetime total (combined duration of breastfeeding for all children) of one year were slightly less likely to get breast cancer than those who never breastfed.
"Mothers who breastfed for a lifetime total of two years got about twice the benefit of those who breastfed for a total of one year. Mothers who breastfed for a lifetime total of more than two years got even more benefit.
"Although data are limited, breastfeeding for less than one year may also modestly lower breast cancer risk."
How is this possible?
Aside from the fact that producing milk leaves cells little time to "misbehave," (as stated by breastcancer.org), there are other factors that contribute to this breastfeeding benefit.
Fewer periods means less estrogen, a natural hormone.
In addition to the nine periods that are missed during pregnancy, did you know that breastfeeding frequently delays the return of a woman's menstrual period? This means lower estrogen levels, which is important -- higher estrogen levels have been linked with an increased risk for breast cancer. And on this note:
Nutrition plays a role in risk reduction.
In pre-menopausal women, estrogen is produced primarily in the ovaries; in post-menopausal women, estrogen production moves to fat tissue. Good nutrition is important for many reasons, but concerning body fat, women who maintain a healthier weight post-menopause are at lower risk for breast cancer. So what does breastfeeding have to do with that?
Nursing a baby allows women to shed weight gained during pregnancy more efficiently. Furthermore, women who breastfeed generally adopt a healthier diet and lifestyle while they are nursing, and these habits may carry over through the rest of their lives.
And then, I saw this interesting article circulating around:
Your boobs start to eat themselves after breastfeeding is over.
Did I read that right?
We are continuing to discover more about breasts, from breast cancer causes and treatment to breastfeeding benefits. If you are unable to breastfeed, don't worry -- there are other ways to reduce breast cancer risk.
Start by learning more about breast cancer here,
and download a free breast health guide.
Nelson HD, Zakher B, Cantor A, et al. Risk factors for breast cancer for women aged 40 to 49 years: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med. 156(9):635-48, 2012.
Bernier MO, Plu-Bureau G, Bossard N, et al. Breastfeeding and risk of breast cancer: a meta-analysis of published studies. Hum Reprod Update. 6:374-86, 2000.
Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer. Breast cancer and breast feeding: collaborative reanalysis of individual data from 47 epidemiological studies in 30 countries, including 50,302 women with breast cancer and 96,973 women without the disease. Lancet 20:187-95, 2002.
Ma H, Bernstein L, Pike MC, Ursin G. Reproductive factors and breast cancer risk according to joint estrogen and progesterone receptor status: a meta-analysis of epidemiological studies. Breast Cancer Res. 19;8(4):R43, 2006.
Megan Hamzawi is a certified childbirth educator and doula. Her class is ideal for pregnant people and labor partners who prioritize individualized healthcare, informed consent, health-promoting nutritional choices, and active participation in the birth process.