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For Immediate Release: May 10, 2012
Contact: Mya Nelson, m.nelson@aicr.org, 202-328-7744 x3047

Experts: Breastfeeding Protects Moms from Breast Cancer

WASHINGTON D.C. – Mothers who breastfeed know they’re giving their babies a healthy start. Here’s something most of them don’t know: They’re also lowering their own risk for breast cancer, according to experts at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).

In time for Mother’s Day and National Women’s Health Week (May 13-19), AICR is highlighting a key finding from its recent report updating the global scientific evidence on breast cancer risk. The AICR/WCRF Continuous Update Project (CUP) Report on Breast Cancer concluded that breastfeeding lowers the risk for both pre- and post-menopausal breast cancer.

The only other factor examined by the AICR/WCRF expert panel that was convincingly linked to protection against all-age breast cancer risk was avoiding alcohol. (Regular physical activity protects against post-menopausal breast cancer, but whether it also protects against pre-menopausal breast cancer has not yet been determined. A healthy weight is also associated with lower risk for post-menopausal breast cancer.)

The observed protection afforded by breastfeeding is thought to be associated with hormonal changes during lactation that delay a new mother’s menstrual periods. This reduces a woman’s lifetime exposure to hormones like estrogen, which is linked to breast cancer risk. In addition, the shedding of some breast tissue after lactation may help eliminate cells with potential DNA damage.

“All parents want to do what’s best for their baby. Many want to breastfeed for that reason,” said AICR’s registered dietitian Alice Bender. “Thinking of Mom’s health is another great motive.”

Being Breastfed Lowers Risk, Too

AICR and other health organizations recommend breastfeeding exclusively (i.e., not giving baby any other foods) for six months. One of many benefits for babies is that mother's milk can protect them against illness and infection. But in the United States only about 15% of infants are exclusively breastfed for that long, according to a 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Evidence shows that breastfed babies are also less likely to be overweight or obese later in life. The cancer experts at AICR noted that because carrying excess body fat is linked to increased risk for seven different cancers, breastfeeding affords protection to both mother and child.

American women face a number of barriers in trying to breastfeed, including little lactation education during pregnancy, few facilities for expressing milk when they return to the workplace and, in many cases, lack of support from family members and friends.

“Women can’t do it alone,” says Bender, “they need support from all sectors of society to successfully breastfeed for longer than a few days or weeks. There are ways we can all help.”

Supporting Mom, Baby and Family

  • Grandparents and extended family can support parents’ decision to breastfeed even before baby is born. Give sessions with a lactation consultant as a shower gift.
  • Employers: be proactive by letting new moms know about their benefits from the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law.
  • Health Care Providers can discuss breastfeeding early in the pregnancy and offer support, education and referral as necessary.
  • Everyone can allow moms the space and privacy they desire when nursing a baby away from home.

For more information: AICR’s brochure What You Should Know about Breastfeeding highlights the science and provides practical tips.

 

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The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $95 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.

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