Breastfeeding can lower breast cancer risk, especially if a woman breastfeeds for longer than 1 year. There is less benefit for women who breastfeed for less than a year, which is more typical for women living in countries such as the United States. There are several reasons why breastfeeding protects breast health:
- making milk 24/7 limits breast cells' ability to misbehave
- most women have fewer menstrual cycles when they're breastfeeding (added to the 9 missed periods during pregnancy) resulting in lower estrogen levels
- many women tend to eat more nutritious foods and follow healthier lifestyles (limit smoking and alcohol use) while breastfeeding
Beyond breast health protection, breastfeeding provides important health benefits to the baby and helps the bonding process.
Steps you can take
The decision to breastfeed is very personal and depends on your unique situation.
If breastfeeding is an option for you, you may want to consider it. Besides possibly lowering your breast cancer risk, breastfeeding gives your child antibodies through the breast milk that can protect him/her from bacterial and viral infections. Still, these are highly individual decisions affected by many factors besides breast cancer risk and whether you are able to breast feed.
Breastfeeding can be a challenge after a breast cancer diagnosis. After a double mastectomy, sadly, breastfeeding is impossible. After lumpectomy and radiation, the treated breast usually produces little or no milk, but the other breast usually can make milk normally. The milk from one breast may be enough or you may have to supplement with formula. Some women may choose to use a breast milk donor. An experienced breastfeeding coach can help you figure out the best possible solution for your unique situation.
Whether or not you breastfeed, there are lifestyle choices you can make to keep your breast cancer risk as low as it can be:
- maintaining a healthy weight
- exercising regularly
- limiting alcohol
- eating nutritious food
- never smoking (or quitting if you do smoke)
These are just a few of the steps you can take. Review the links on the left side of this page for more options.