Women who choose to breastfeed their babies are likely lowering their risk of getting breast cancer in the future. The benefits of breastfeeding as a preventative measure are not discussed as much as other preventative factors such as exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, eliminating smoking and eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables; however, women of child-bearing age may want to take this into consideration as more studies are showing this to be the case.
A study from the Medical Review Board reports that there are several theories as to how breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer.:
- Lifetime exposure to estrogen is reduced, which decreases the possibility of developing estrogen-fueled breast cancer.
-Hormone balances are different during lactation, resulting in fewer menstrual cycles and less estrogen exposure.
-Environmental carcinogens that are stored in fat, which makes up a great part of the breast, cannot be stored effectively in lactating breasts.
-Breastfeeding may cause changes to breast cells that make them more resistant to cancer-related mutations.
Heather Pugmire, MD/OB-GYN at Bingham Memorial Hospital (BMH), agrees with these findings saying that women who give birth at BMH are always encouraged to breastfeed their babies.
"I believe this to be true,"Pugmire said, explaining, "Prolonged exposure to the hormone estrogen can increase the risk of breast cancer, while breastfeeding, pregnancy and early menopause decrease a woman's exposure to estrogen by cutting back on the number of menstrual cycles that she has in a lifetime."
Pugmire said that in addition to protection from breast cancer, breastfeeding may also provide cardiovascular benefits and help prevent osteoporosis in the mother; it is economical and simply nature's most perfect food for infants.
Elizabeth Young, a first-time mother from Sterling, said she chose to breastfeed her (now 3-month-old) daughter, Esabella after studying and looking into breastfeeding in depth. She learned about the breast cancer protection factor as well as the many other benefits of breastfeeding.
"It's perfectly natural and so much healthier for the mother and baby," Young said. "Science simply can't reproduce the nutritional properties found in a mother's milk."
Pugmire and Young both stress that there are plenty of support groups available to help mothers who may be struggling to nurse their babies
and that staff members at any hospital or birthing center can recommend a helpful group.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and women are encouraged to educate themselves about all aspects of that disease.