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Breastfeeding and Breast Cancer

Can Breastfeeding protect against Breast Cancer?

The answer is yes, however the mechanism is unknown.

The benefits of breastfeeding are well documented and publicised. However the benefits most mentioned are those which benefit the baby. Most people are actually unaware of the great benefits there are for the breastfeeding mother.

The most important benefit for the mother is that breastfeeding acts a protector against developing Breast Cancer.  The mechanism by which this works is still unknown, however one Swedish study in 2004 looked at the breast cancer faulty genes and found that breastfeeding may reduce the breast cancer risk of one of these carrier genes. This was not conclusive, however, and more research needs to be done in order to determine the mechanism.

There is compelling evidence illustrating the decreased risk. A large Cancer Research study in the UK (Lancet 2002 Jul 20: 360(9328)) compared breastfeeding history in women who had breast cancer and those who hadn’t. It looked at about 150 000 women. This study found that the longer the women had breastfed for, the less likely they were to develop breast cancer. Breastfeeding lowered breast cancer risk by 4.3% for every year of feeding. You may not think this is a lot, but according to CANSA 1 in every 29 women will develop breast cancer in SA. Our breastfeeding rates are not very good at all, according to UNICEF, only 8% of children between the years 2003 – 2008 are exclusively breastfed for 6 months (WHO guidelines). In Japan their rate of exclusive breastfeeding is 90% and they have a very low rate of breast cancer (www.cancerhelp.org.uk).

The protective feature of breastfeeding is improved the longer a mother breastfeeds for, with the WHO suggesting that breastfeeding should be continued until 24 months. It has been shown however, that the older the mother is when she is breastfeeding the less protective breastfeeding is. The best protection you will get is to breastfeed before you turn 30 years old.

Another benefit of breastfeeding  is that is helps to contract the uterus which helps with post-birth bleeding and helps to bring the uterus back to its original size. It will also help to shed off those extra kilo’s you picked up whilst pregnant!!

So for all you women out there who are pregnant or are yet to fall pregnant, here is even more evidence as to why you should breastfeed your child!!!

Jordana Ventzke