Studies are showing that breastfeeding is not just healthy for babies, but it’s good for the mothers, too! However, less than 1 in 5 women have been told by their doctors that breastfeeding is healthy and beneficial for both mother and baby.
Women who nurse their babies reduce their risk of breast cancer by 4.3 percent every 12 months they breastfeed, with a 7 percent decrease with every baby they have. They are also less likely to develop ovarian cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. Additionally, cardiovascular health may improve because of breastfeeding.
Formula for infants is marketed as being a good substitute for breastmilk. However, Dr. Bhuvaneswari Ramaswamy, the study’s author and associate professor of medical oncology, stated that “formula is not going to help women live longer and be there for their families.”
Dr. Bhuvaneswari voiced concern over the lack of information given to expectant mothers about breastfeeding and the choice between breastfeeding or formula. “We have an ounce of prevention that could save lives. But are we fully educating the mothers when they make this difficult choice? Because it is not an easy choice.”
The study surveyed 724 women between the ages of 18 and 50 who had birthed at least one child. Only 120 of these women stated that their doctors explained how breastfeeding is healthy. Those who knew about the health benefits gained their knowledge through the internet. Those who knew about the benefits breastfed their baby longer (an average of 13 months), compared to the 9 months women who were not aware of the benefits typically breastfed.
While scientists cannot say with certainty why breastfeeding prevents breast cancer in women, they do know that the breasts undergo change during pregnancy as they prepare for potential breastfeeding.
Dr. Bhuvaneswari explained that after pregnancy, the breasts undergo a process known as involution that gets them back to their pre-pregnancy state. When there is little or no breastfeeding, the process happens very swiftly, which can lead to an inflammatory condition that may promote cancer.
Dr. Marisa Weiss, founder of BreastCancer.org, explained the change that occurs during pregnancy to be a “bar mitzvah” for the breasts. Dr. Weiss stated that breastfeeding “forces the breasts to finally grow up and get a job, and make milk, and show up for work every day, and stop fooling around.”
The process that occurs during breastfeeding results in changes in the milk ducts that make the breasts more resistant to breast cancer.
To learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding and how breastfeeding is healthy for mother and child, visit the Office on Women’s Health website.
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