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Breastfeeding lowers risk of breast cancer

The baby must be exclusively breastfed for 6 months, as recommended by the WHO and most paediatric and gynaecological associations including IAP.

SNS | New Delhi |

We are all aware of the numerous benefits of breastfeeding. Not many however may be aware of the reduced risk of breast cancer with breastfeeding. On this Breast cancer awareness month October, sharing a bit about these benefits.

The baby must be exclusively breastfed for 6 months, as recommended by the WHO and most paediatric and gynaecological associations including IAP. This means that the baby needs no water, formula or liquids and solids. Breastfeeding provides the baby with all the energy and nutrients they need.

After 6 months, solid and semi-solid food can slowly be introduced into the baby’s diet while you continue to breastfeed the baby. The longer you breastfeed, the more is the protection against breast cancer. In fact, a study found that for every one year that the baby is breastfed, the risks of breast cancer go down by 4 % or so.

This study compared women who breastfed their babies compared to those who didn’t. Moreover, there’s also protection against ovarian cancer.

There is a 63% less chance of this cancer for women who feed their babies for one year and the risk further reduces if you feed them for longer than one year. A study of more than 60,000 women published in an international journal also found that women with a family history of breast cancer reduced their risk of getting the disease before menopause by around 60%. So if there is a family history of breast cancer, there’s even greater benefits and need for breastfeeding.

There’s also a greater body of evidence that shows that breastfeeding also reduces the chance of more aggressive and difficult to treat cancers.

Also, remember that there is a lower chance of both premenopausal and postmenopausal breast cancer. The reason for this is that during pregnancy, childbirth and lactation, the menstrual periods stop. When there are no periods, there are hormonal changes.

Estrogen, the hormone that is believed to cause breast and ovarian cancer goes down, thereby limiting the risks. And obviously, the longer these periods of no menstruation, the more the protection afforded. In addition, when women breastfeed, for some time there is no ovulation; so lessened chances of ovarian cancer.

During pregnancy and breastfeeding, there is also some shedding of breast tissue cells. This removes cells with potential DNA damage, again reducing the chances of breast cancer.

And there’s one more reason. When pregnant and breastfeeding, you eat a more healthy diet that is rich in antioxidants, fruits, green vegetables and whole grains and nuts. There is ideally no intake of alcohol and smoking, both of which are known to cause cancer. There is a greater focus on leading a healthier life, including exercising.

Breastfeeding also helps in burning calories and reducing weight. Ideal body weight and lack of obesity are also known to reduce the risk of not just breast cancer but many other cancers as well.

Breastfeeding, as we all know, also protect against obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure.

Now let’s talk about the benefits of a breastfed baby. Mother’s milk is laden with antibodies that protect babies against gut, ear, eye and respiratory infections including childhood asthma. These babies have fewer chances of type 1 diabetes and childhood obesity. Less obese babies have a lesser chance of many cancers like postmenopausal breast, uterine, oesophageal, rectal and kidney cancers. The longer the baby is breastfed, the lesser the chances of many allergies. Aren’t there a lot of reasons to breastfeed your baby?

Do remember to keep doing breast self-examinations, clinical breast examinations by your doctor, ultrasound of the breast after the age of 25 years and also mammography after the age of 40 years.

Breast cancer is a deadly disease but breast milk is the elixir that can beat this terrible cancer. So despite the challenges to breastfeeding, pledge to breastfeed and take care of your own health NOW!

(Dr Shelly Singh, Senior gynaecologist, Rosewalk Hospital)