To mark World Breastfeeding Week the first week of August, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is highlighting one of the least recognized findings from its latest report: mothers who breastfeed have lower risk of breast cancer. The lower risk is modest, but it is one additional motive to breastfeed for moms who are able.
Research also shows that babies who are breastfed are less likely to gain excess weight as they grow. Among adults, AICR research shows that overweight and obesity increases the risk of 11 common cancers.
“It isn’t always possible for moms to breastfeed but for those who can, know that breastfeeding can offer cancer protection for both the mother and the child,” said AICR’s Director of Nutrition Programs Alice Bender, MS, RDN.
AICR recommends that new mothers breastfeed exclusively for up to six months and then add other liquids and foods. This advice is in line with recommendations of other health organizations, including the World Health Organization. Breastfeeding provides the nutrients babies need, helps protect them from infections and asthma and boosts their immune system.
AICR’s report updating the global scientific evidence on breast cancer identified and reviewed the 18 studies on lactation. Thirteen of these studies focused on length of time, showing a 2 percent decreased risk per 5-month increase in breastfeeding duration.
There are several possible ways by which breastfeeding may influence breast cancer risk. Lactation may delay a new mother’s menstrual periods, reducing lifetime exposure to hormones like estrogen, which is linked to breast cancer risk. The shedding of breast tissue after lactation may also help rid cells with DNA damage.
Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Breast Cancer found many other lifestyle factors linked to breast cancer risk. Staying a healthy weight, avoiding alcohol and being physically active were also found to lower risk of this cancer.
“With the many benefits of breastfeeding it’s important that new moms get support to successfully breastfeed for longer than a few days or weeks,” says Bender. “It’s also critical to know there are steps all women can take to lower the risk of this cancer.”