The Research

Breastfeeding benefits reach new heights as a recent study discovered that the practice not only sets infants at a health advantage, but can also positively influence mothers with breast cancer.

Published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, Emilio Gonzales-Jimenez PhD from the University of Granada researched  medical records of 504 women between the ages of 19 and 91, who have been treated for breast cancer between the years of 2004 to 2009 at the Granada university hospital. The study took into consideration age of breast cancer diagnosis, duration of breastfeeding practice, family history of cancer, and smoking tendency.

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While the study did not find that breastfeeding directly reduced the risk of breast cancer, researchers found that of those who were treated, the patients that breastfed their children developed the disease at a later age. The results also concluded that upon developing breast cancer, women who breastfed for more than six months saw a 10 year gain in life expectancy.  Smoking was found to cancel out these benefits.

The Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer conducted similar research to that of Gonzales-Jimenez's study, wherein they observed information about 50,000 women with breast cancer and approximately 97,000 women with healthy breasts. They found that for every 12 months of breast feeding, a woman's risk of breast cancer was reduced by up to 4%.

How Does Breastfeeding Affect Breast Cancer?

A number of theories exist on why or how breastfeeding can positively affect, and at times, prevent, breast cancer. Some include:

  • Reduced exposure to estrogen. Mutations that commonly lead to breast cancer have been linked to estrogen exposure.  
  • Changing hormone balances. Hormone balances differ when lactating, which causes fewer menstrual cycles and a decrease in estrogen exposure.
  • Reduced breast fat. Carcinogens are stored in fat. In lactating breasts, however, these environmental carcinogens cannot be stored properly.
  • Changes in breast cells. Breast cells alter during breastfeeding, which can increase their resilience to mutations that cause cancer.

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Other Benefits Of Breastfeeding For Nursing Mothers

The benefits breastfeeding has on children's health and development is well-known, but the knowledge of advantages breastfeeding offers mothers is only recently gaining momentum. Other benefits include:

  • Ovarian and endometrial cancer prevention. Breast feeding reduces ovulation and causes less stimulation on the endometrial lining.
  • Increased emotional health. Nursing mothers show less postpartum depression and anxiety.
  • Reduced risk of osteoporosis. Women who choose not to breastfeed are four times more likely to develop osteoporosis.

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Seventy-seven percent of babies are breastfed as newborns, according to the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 49% still breastfeed at six months, and only 27% do so at 12 months. With a projected amount of 234,000 diagnoses of breast cancer cases and 40,000 expected deaths in 2013 alone, the results of Gonzales-Jimenez and The Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer studies are insightful findings in a long battle against breast cancer. Based on knowledge gathered from their research, up to 11 percent of cases could be prevented each year.

Ovarian and endometrial cancer prevention. breast feeding reduces ovulations and causes less stimulation on endometrial lining.
Increased emotional health. Nursing mothers show less postpartum depression and anxiety
Reduced risk of osteoporosis. Women who choose not to breastfeed are four times more likely to develop osteoporosis.