‘Mum Knows Best’…Breastfeeding and Cancer Prevention

Eden & baby Jubilee, USA: from ECCT's "Worldwide Pink album"

by Eden Chiuslekuda

Recently many of you have heard much ado about breastfeeding preventing breast cancer and as we draw to the close of Pink Ribbon month – we thought it might be an excellent time to explain these recent research findings more fully.

So how exactly does breastfeeding work in cancer prevention?

Nyarie & baby Mati, Australia: (from ECCT's "Worldwide Pink album")

1.     Hormonal balance

Excessively high oestrogen levels have been linked to the incidence of breast cancer.  Both pregnancy and lactation reduce the levels of oestrogen circulating in the body naturally.  Breastfeeding also stimulates the production of oxytocin – (a ‘feel good’ hormone that has also been associated with a reduction in the occurrence of breast cancer.)

2.     Removal of toxins

Toxins are generally stored in fatty tissue and the anatomical and physiological mechanics of breastfeeding allow for toxins and carcinogens stored in the breast to leave the mother’s body through the breastmilk – thus creating a detoxifying effect for the mother that is protective against breast cancer.  The lymph system is a very big factor in removing toxins from the body.  (The effect of the toxins in the breastmilk is believed to be far outweighed by the multiple health benefits for the infant.)

Caden & Shani, Australia: from ECCT's "Worldwide Pink Album"

3.     Reduces the number of menstrual cycles.

A woman reduces her chance of developing cancer by 4.3% for each year that she breastfeeds and by 7 % for each birth.  The fewer menstrual cycles a woman completes, the lower her risk of contracting breast cancer.  This makes certain factors like becoming pregnant before the age of 30, extended breastfeeding and multiple pregnancies all beneficial in breast cancer prevention.  In order to gain the preventative effect of breastfeeding, women are encouraged to go for as long as possible within the 6 months to 2 ½ years range.

4.     Reduces the likelihood of adult cancer in the offspring

Breastfeeding reduces significantly the occurrence of both childhood and adult obesity for the breastfed infant.  Obesity has been linked to higher rates of cancer. (Even the United Nations encourages women to breastfeed their infants for up to around 2 years.)   Breastfeeding has shown to have a protective effect against cancers of the breast and prostate in adult years. A woman can even breastfeed whilst having breast cancer and be assured that the cancer cells won’t be passed on to her child.

Adel and family, UK: from ECCT's "Worldwide Pink Album"

5.     Prevents both pre and post-menopausal cancer

Research has established that there is a difference between pre and post-menopausal cancer, and breastfeeding has been shown by subsequent research to be beneficial in preventing both kinds.

Maureen & sons, USA: from ECCT's "Worldwide Pink Album"

It takes a village to successfully breastfeed a child

So there it is – the known facts on breastfeeding’s link to cancer prevention.  Breastfeeding can be challenging for some women – so be sure to get help from your elders or other women who have successfully breastfed their babies.  ‘It takes a village’, even for breastfeeding.

If you are in the diaspora seek the assistance of a Lactation Consultant or contact the ‘La Leche League’ for a free consultation. Many western workplaces also accommodate the need for a breastfeeding woman to pump milk for her infant while at work.  Just stick with it and it gets easier.  Also, remember that a natural and unmedicated birth, when possible, makes breastfeeding much easier to manage.

See the ECCT’s Worldwide Pink Album to raise breast cancer awareness.

* Eden Chiuslekuda is an ECCT Natural Health Contributor.  For more of her natural health & beauty tips, follow her page, ‘A Corner of Eden’ .

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