It’s no secret that breastfeeding is beneficial to an infant’s health. The benefits of breastfeeding for babies are very well-documented:
- It provides the perfect balance of nutrients that your baby needs to survive and thrive.
- Breast milk contains hormones and antibodies than natural strengthen your infant’s developing immune system.
- Less of a likelihood that your child will later experience gastrointestinal issues, type 2 diabetes, childhood obesity, respiratory and ear infections, and some childhood cancers.[Schanler, 2016]
The protective effect of breast milk is even shown to last after a child stops breastfeeding, contributing to a number of short and long-term pediatric health benefits.
Let’s take a moment to shift the attention to your health. Because while lots of attention is devoted to the health of newborn children, we don’t talk enough about the health of new mothers.
Did you know that the U.S. has one of the most embarrassing postpartum maternal mortality rates in the developed world? At 15-30 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births in 2015 and rising, our national trend runs contrary to declining rates in Europe, Australia, and Canada [The Lancet].
Before those numbers get any worse, we need to create a culture that values maternal health.
The Benefits of A Mother Breastfeeding
Much like for infants, breastfeeding provides a number of short and long-term benefits for mothers that begin at birth and continue for the duration of their lives. What are some of these benefits?
- Uterine healing. Shortly after birth, breastfeeding stimulates the production of a hormone called oxytocin. This oxytocin prevents hemorrhaging and promotes uterine healing.
- Reduced maternal stress levels. Together with prolactin (a neuropeptide associated with breastfeeding), oxytocin may also have a positive impact on the mental health of new mothers by reducing stress levels and promoting parent-child bonding [Schanler, 2016].
- Easier weight loss. Mothers who nurse may also have a slight edge in losing the baby weight after pregnancy, thanks to a metabolic boost that breastfeeding appears to provide.
- Lower risk for diabetes and heart disease. Breastfeeding helps regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels, so nursing mothers have a lower risk for developing diabetes and heart disease than their formula-feeding counterparts [La Leche League International].
So How Does Breastfeeding Prevent Cancer?
Studies have shown a 4.3 percent drop in a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer for ever 12 months she nurses [Chen, 2017]. This risk continues to go down over multiple pregnancies.
It appears to reduce mothers’ risks of developing ovarian cancer as well. One study found that women who breastfeed multiple children for a combined 31 months or more could see a 91% reduction in their risk for ovarian cancer compared with women who breastfeed for less than 10 months [Cordeiro, 2014].
Doctors have a few different theories about why this phenomenon occurs. There are a variety of different factors that may contribute to it. We know that nursing stimulates the production of certain beneficial hormones and neuropeptides in a mother’s body. These hormones also postpone the return of ovulation and menstruation after she gives birth, reducing the likelihood of an immediate, consecutive pregnancy. This natural spacing allows a mother more time to heal between pregnancies, while encouraging her to devote more time and attention to each of her newborn children [La Leche International].
This delay in ovulation may also reduce a woman’s exposure to estrogen, which can reduce her overall risk for developing breast and ovarian cancers [MD Anderson Cancer Center]. Oral contraceptives that delay ovulation are associated with similar anti-cancer benefits.
Another factor is that breastfeeding contributes to cell shedding and turnover within the breast tissue, which may help remove damaged cells before they can develop into cancer [MD Anderson Cancer Center].
Clearly the benefits of breastfeeding extend well beyond just the benefits they provide to your newborn child. We should really strive to make breastfeeding a more accepted choice for new mothers. A culture that promotes feeding babies breastmilk is one that values the health of women. In choosing breastmilk , new mothers make a lasting investment in their own health and the health of their families. After all, a healthy, happy mom is the best gift your child can receive.
About the Author: Dr. Robert Lum, Founder and Head Oncologist at Oncologic Advisors, has over twenty years of radiation oncology experience. Treating the whole person, not just the disease, is the philosophy Dr. Lum has embraced over his years of practice.
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