Thanks to public health messages, everyone pretty much knows that breastfeeding is beneficial for baby. But it also benefits the mother in more than one way. Somebody has rightly said that “Breastfeeding is nature’s health plan.” One of the benefits of breastfeeding to the mother is the reduction in the risk of breast cancer.
The major study that supports breastfeeding as a protective factor against breast cancer was published in Lancet in 2002. The study authors found that the rate of breast cancer diagnoses was slightly lower among women who had breastfed and among women who had breastfed for longer periods of time.
For every 12 months of breastfeeding (either with only 1 child, or as the total period of time for several children), the risk of breast cancer decreased by 4.3%, compared to women who did not breastfeed. Risk decreased by a further 3.4% for each child breastfed, compared to women who did not breastfeed.
Although a 4% lowering of risk does not sound much but with the increasing incidence of breast cancer, if new mothers adhere to the recommended guidelines of breastfeeding their children for one year, they could theoretically prevent up to 5000 cases of breast cancer each year.
In India, where breast cancer incidence is on the rise (especially in the urban areas), breastfeeding could have a greater impact in prevention of breast cancer. Currently, WHO is celebrating the World Breastfeeding Week and educating mothers about the advantages of breastfeeding, not only to the children but to the mothers as well and all of us should make an effort to spread this word around.