Another Reason Breast is Best

Not all women have a choice to breastfeed or not. But if you have a choice, although it is a very personal choice, more research has come out about the benefits of breastfeeding. On top of the already valuable list of reasons, a new study shows that breastfeeding actually helps to protect women who have a family history of breast cancer. Not only is that good news but the amount of time you breastfeed doesn’t seem to be a big factor. According to the study, only 3 months worth of breastfeeding (and it doesn’t have to be all at once, it can be split between babies) offers this protection!

Here is the full article:

Breastfeeding Protects Women with Family History of Breast Cancer

Written by Jodi Cleghorn

A new study into the link between breast cancer and breastfeeding provides new evidence as to why breastfeeding is especially important for women with a family history of breast cancer.

The study by Dr. Alison Stuebe and colleagues at the University of North Carolina found women with a family history of breast cancer radically reduced their risk of developing invasive premenapausal breast cancer by breastfeeding. The effect was comparable to taking an anti-estrogen drug such as Tamoxifen for five years. Unlike Tamoxifen, breastfeeding has advantages for both mother and child.

Previous studies have been mixed regarding the protective effect of breastfeeding. Dr Stuebe believes these studies may be flawed due to cancer patients being asked to recall their breastfeeding history after diagnosis.

Using a prospective study model Dr Stuebe and colleagues looked to collect information on breastfeeding and breast cancer before diagnosis. They drew their information from the Nurses’ Health Study II using the data of 60,000 women who reported giving birth in 1997.

Women were asked also to describe their breastfeeding practises. They were also asked if there was a family history of breast cancer and if they had been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.

They followed the cohort through to 2005 to see how many developed cancer in that time. At the end of the study 608 cases of invasive premenopausal breast cancer were identified. The average age at diagnosis was 46.

Women with a mother or a sister with breast cancer were found to have reduced their risk of developing cancer by 59% as a result of breastfeeding. There was no difference found in women who did not have a family history of breast cancer.

“This could be because there’s something about genetically caused breast cancer that’s affected by breastfeeding,” said Dr Stuebe, “or it could be because rates of breast cancer were so low in women without a family history that we couldn’t see an association in this data set.”

The good news is protection is not dependent on the length of time a woman breastfeeds. The important point in question is whether a woman breastfeeds or not. The protective effect is apparent with just three months of breastfeeding – which may be accumulated from one child to the next. This means a mother breastfeeding each of her two children for six weeks will still gain the benefit. There was also no difference in women who exclusively breastfed compared with women who breastfed and supplemented. (1)

There is still no answer as to why breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer. The researchers suspect when women do not breastfeed, inflammation and engorgement shortly after birth causes changes in breast tissue that may increase the risk for breast cancer. This inflammation may be prevented by breastfeeding and weaning.

A recent study by the Centre for Disease Control found half the women gave up breastfeeding before they wanted to. “Mothers and babies need supportive hospital policies, paid maternity leave, and workplace accommodations so that they can meet their breastfeeding goals,” Dr Stuebe says. “Public health begins with breastfeeding.”

One wonders in an era of public health policy which asks us to stop smoking, limit our alcohol consumption, eat better and exercise more, all of which attack big business profits and advocate no profit activities, if there should not be more room to aggressively promote breastfeeding on the same platform.


Based on the Chapel Hill School of Medicine Press Release at Media NewsWire

Alison M. Stuebe; Walter C. Willett; Fei Xue; Karin B. Michels. Lactation and Incidence of Premenopausal Breast Cancer: A Longitudinal Study. Arch Intern Med., 2009; 169 (15)

(1) Breastfeeding May Cut Breast Cancer Risk Kathleen Doheny at EmedicineHealth

Jodi Cleghorn is a Brisbane mother, writer, lactivist and natural birth advocate. When she’s not writing breastfeeding articles she is working on her fiction stories including a new novella and a new publishing project Chinese Whisperings. Her new blog Writing in Black and White chronicles her journey as a writer, editor and publisher. This week she’s enjoying a quiet house for the first time in two weeks!

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