This is the last part in my little series on how to help prevent breast cancer. Although choosing a bra that allows for breast movement and reducing your exposure to aluminum and other chemicals in antiperspirants are both very important, probably the best thing you can do to improve the health of your breasts is breastfeed your baby. More and more studies are showing a direct correlation between how long women breastfeed and their decreased chance of developing breast cancer.
So the longer you breastfeed, the less your chances of developing breast cancer are. But it is important to note that the research emphasizes breastfeeding for AT LEAST 24 months to show a unequivocable decrease in risk. Again, the more you breastfeed, the lower the risk, so following the World Health Organization’s recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, and continued nursing until the baby is at least 2 years old, is precisely what needs to be done for optimal mommy breast health. In the United States, less than 15% of women are exclusively breastfeeding their babies at 6 months. This is bad news for women’s breasts. Of course, every little bit helps, but to get the full beneficial impact for your breasts, the research points to nursing each child for at least 2 years.
Despite all these studies confirming that breastfeeding reduces breast cancer rates, scientists are still a bit unsure why. It is known that pregnancy and lactation decrease a woman’s exposure to her own natural estrogen, since estrogen production falls during these times. Long-term estrogen exposure has been shown to be a risk factor for developing breast cancer. Since we are now inundated by so much estrogen in the environment, it makes sense that a decrease in exposure to estrogen in any form would lead to a decreased risk of breast cancer.
However, many researchers are convinced that there is something else going, on, too, that we have yet to uncover. This makes sense, since many women do resume their menstrual cycles before they have breastfed the recommended 24 months, and this means that their bodies are producing normal amounts of estrogen again. I am interested to see what other factors are uncovered as research grows in this area, but in the meantime, it is comforting to know that even though we aren’t completely sure why, breastfeeding your baby is the healthiest choice for your breasts!
Of course, there are lots of other reasons to keep nursing for as long as you can and want to, but this is a sweet deal FOR YOU. Well, and also your daughter (and son–men get breast cancer, too!). Women who were breastfed by their mothers have a lower risk of developing breast cancer. Think about that statement for a moment…it is a powerful one. If all women could nurse their daughters for 2 or more years, and in turn these daughters nursed their daughters for 2 or more years, think of how much less breast cancer there could be in this country!