Another October dawns with pink Breast Cancer Awareness Ribbons everywhere, yet one of the easiest ways to reduce the risk of breast cancer still remains one of the least touted: breastfeeding. While women regularly hear about the benefits of exercise and diet, as well as early detection methods such as (the controversial) self-exams and mammography, few are aware of the link between breastfeeding and breast cancer.
Women who choose to bear children and who breastfeed for any amount of time are at a decreased risk of developing breast cancer, according to Webmd.com. Women who breastfeed at least 12 months, following the American Academy of Pediatric’s recommendation, or 24 months, following the World Health Organization’s recommendation, reduce their risk even more, according to the National Institute of Health.
In fact, “The longer women breast feed the more they are protected against breast cancer. The lack of or short lifetime duration of breastfeeding typical of women in developed countries makes a major contribution to the high incidence of breast cancer in these countries,” according to the National Institute of Health.
It’s not just the women who benefit from the risk-reduction offered by breastfeeding, however. The benefits of breastfeeding for the baby are well-known: formula-fed babies have more infections, increased risk of allergies, increased risk of type one diabetes, and intestinal disorders. But formula fed babies have one more risk: they also are more likely to develop breast cancer as adults. In other words, breast feeding a baby can help protect him or her from developing breast cancer as an adult, just as it can help protect the mother from developing breast cancer. (promom.org).
Women in the United States are notoriously under-supported when it comes to breastfeeding. While many women lack family support, others lack good information while in the hospital or after leaving the hospital. Some women lack the facilities in which to pump at work, and still others fail to even seek support for fear of bullying lactation consultants.
Though women need to take ownership of their bodies and their choices when it comes to infant feeding, it’s also important for the health care system to provide better information. Women need to know the truth behind such important decisions. Infant feeding is not so simple as merely “breast or bottle.” It is not just one milk type or another. It may well be a life or death decision for some.
Breast feeding is not a cure for breast cancer, nor should it be treated as one. It is simply one more healthy lifestyle choice – along with healthy diet, plenty of exercise, and awareness – that can help more women live long, healthy, full lives. Isn’t that something of which we should all be aware?