There is a long list of the ways breastfeeding benefits your baby’s health. It provides the perfect nutrition for a growing human body and brain with no cost or preparation. Breastfeeding protects moms, too – by lower their risk of breast cancer. Just like babies, the longer you breastfeed, the greater the benefit to your health.
Recently published research showed the longer moms breastfed, the less likely they were to develop a highly aggressive form of breast cancer. Hormone-receptor-negative (HRN) cancers are usually diagnosed in women under 50 and have fewer treatment options, making them especially dangerous. Women that have breastfed have a 20% lower risk of developing an HRN tumor.
Another study showed mothers that breastfed had a 30% lower risk of cancer recurrence after treatment for the most common type of breast cancer, estrogen-receptor-positive (ER+). In addition to a lower recurrence rate, women with a history of breastfeeding were 28% more likely to survive their cancer and see it into remission.
These are big benefits, the positive effects of breastfeeding means thousands more women will survive breast cancer to care for their children and watch them grow. Researchers are learning more about the many ways breastfeeding protects us from breast cancer, reinforcing the idea that the function of breasts is to make milk to nourish our young.
Taking a deeper look, scientists are finding out how breastfeeding works in our bodies to lower our breast cancer risk. The first protective benefit of breastfeeding is related to the break from menstruation that occurs during pregnancy and breastfeeding. During a normal menstrual cycle, ovaries release the hormone estrogen.
During puberty, estrogen sent the signal to cells on your chest to develop into breasts. In adulthood, estrogen helps our heart and bones stay strong and healthy, but can also promote the growth of ER+ cancer. The disruption of your menstrual cycle from pregnancy and breastfeeding results in less cumulative exposure to estrogen, resulting in a lower risk of developing and ER+ tumor.
The second way breastfeeding protects us from breast cancer is by giving our cells a job to do. The action of transitioning from a just a ‘breast’ to a ‘lactating breast’ causes your cells to mature and change into a more solid, less changeable state. These mature cells are less likely to mutate and become cancerous. The result is fewer tumors, or if a tumor does occur it grows slowly and responds well to treatment.
It is well established that breastfeeding is the best way to nourish our infants; research is now showing that it also has significant benefits for moms. As scientists search for ways to make people healthier and live longer, breastfeeding continues to prove itself to be a powerhouse of health promotion and disease suppression.