(US) – Research continues to indicate that breastfeeding your baby can actually lower your risk of developing breast cancer.
According to breastcancer.org, the risk lowers even more if you breastfeed for longer than 1 year. So why is this the case?
- Making milk limits breast cells ability to act abnormally.
- Most women have fewer menstrual cycles when they’re breastfeeding, which means lower estrogen levels.
- Many women tend to eat more nutritious food and make healthier lifestyle choices (avoiding alcohol and not smoking) while they’re breastfeeding.
The organization notes that a new study also includes additional evidence to the benefits of breastfeeding for breast health. Researches found that non-smoking women who breastfed for more than six months tended to be diagnosed with breast cancer later in life compared to non-smoking women who breastfed for shorter periods of time or not at all. The study was published on August 13th, 2013 by the Journal of Clinical Nursing.
The researchers involved in this study analyzed information that was collected before the study was designed, meaning it was a retrospective study. It is important to note that some doctors are critical of retrospective studies and believe they aren’t as strong as those that are designed first and then collect new information specific to that study.
Furthermore, the researchers in that particular study examined the medical records of 504 women in Granada, Spain who were diagnosed with breast cancer when they were between 19 and 91 years old. All women were diagnosed at one clinic between 2004 and 2009.
The average diagnosis was:
- 7 in the 364 women who hadn’t had children or breastfed for fewer than 3 months
- 5 in the 109 women who breastfed for 3 to 6 months
- 4 in the 31 women who breastfed for more than 6 months
Additionally, when the researchers compared women who smoked to women who didn’t smoke, they found that smoking affected breast cancer risk more than breastfeeding. Breastfeeding for longer than six months only seemed to offer protection to women who didn’t smoke.
- Women who didn’t breastfeed or breastfed fewer than 3 months and smoked were about 7 years younger when diagnosed than similar women who didn’t smoke
- Women who breastfed for 3 to 6 months and smoked were about 11 years younger when diagnosed than similar women who didn’t smoke
- Women who breastfed for more than 6 months and smoked were about 21 years younger when diagnosed than similar women who didn’t smoke
Officials with breastcancer.org note that while the results of the study seem to confirm the benefits of breastfeeding and the dangers of smoking on breast healthy, doctors do have a few concerns about the study:
- The study was small and all the women were diagnosed at the same clinic. It’s not clear if the findings would apply to a larger, more diverse group of women.
- The researchers didn’t ask the women who breastfed if that was the only food their child was getting. Women who smoke may have trouble making enough milk and may have to supplement their child’s food with bottles. This could affect how long smokers are able to breastfeed.
It’s important to note that the decision to breastfeed is very personal and depends on your unique situation. If it is an option for you, experts recommend that you consider it. Besides the potential to lower your breast cancer risk breastfeeding also gives your child antibodies through the breast milk that can protect him/her from bacterial and viral infections.
Whether or not you breastfeed, there are lifestyle choices you can make to keep your breast cancer risk as low as possible::
- never smoking (or quitting if you do smoke)
- maintaining a healthy weight
- exercising regularly
- limiting alcohol
- eating nutritious food
For more information on steps, you can take to reduce breast cancer risk, visit the Breastcancer.org Lower Your Risk section.