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Breast-Feeding May Stave Off Breast Cancer
 Women's Health Feature Story

Breast-Feeding May Stave Off Breast Cancer
Study finds that nursing even a short while boosts protection

Breast-Feeding May Stave Off Breast Cancer(HealthDay News) -- When it comes to breast-feeding, what's good for baby also seems to be good for mom.

It's long been known that infants glean many developmental and protective benefits from breast milk. Because of this, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that healthy women breast-feed their babies exclusively for the first six months of life and continue breast-feeding for the first year and beyond, if mother and child so desire.

But there is a growing body of research illuminating the many health benefits of nursing for women, as well.

One example comes from a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, where researchers reported a 59 percent lower risk for breast cancer among women with a family history of the disease who breast-fed their babies even for periods as short as three months.

It made little difference whether the women breast-fed exclusively or supplemented with other foods. They still enjoyed that protective benefit.

Overall, the risk-lowering effect of breast-feeding was roughly comparable to that seen by women at high risk for breast cancer who take hormonal treatments, such as tamoxifen.

The study examined data from more than 60,000 women from 1997 to 2005.

For women with a family history of breast cancer, the findings are encouraging. "Our results suggest a woman can lower her risk of cancer simply by breast-feeding her children," the study's lead author, Dr. Alison Stuebe, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, said in a statement released by the university. Yet breast-feeding rates fall short of national recommendations. About 74 percent of women in the United States initiate breast-feeding, and just 33 percent of infants are breast-fed exclusively for six months, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Research has revealed a variety of benefits for women:

  • In addition to reducing breast-cancer risk, evolving evidence suggests that breast-feeding may help protect women against uterine and ovarian cancer, according to the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
  • Women who breast-feed their infants have less belly fat, the dangerous kind of fat that can boost the risk for heart disease, according to research presented this year at the American Heart Association conference on cardiovascular health in San Francisco.
  • Among women who have given birth, each year of breast-feeding is associated with a 14 percent reduced risk of having type 2 diabetes, Australian researchers reported in a study published online in the journal Diabetes Care. Women who'd had children but never breast-fed had a 50 percent higher likelihood of having diabetes than did women who'd never had children.
  • Researchers at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif., found a link between breast-feeding and lower metabolic risk. Nursing one to five months reduced a woman's risk of developing metabolic syndrome by 39 percent, or as much as 44 percent if she had gestational diabetes.

Will it help you shed weight after giving birth? That's still being studied, says the U.S. National Women's Health Information Center.

But nursing moms may have increased self-confidence and feelings of closeness and bonding with their infants, it says. So the physical contact created between mom and baby during breast-feeding appears to be a boon for a woman's emotional health, too.

On the Web

To learn more about the benefits of breast-feeding, visit the American College of Nurse Midwives.

SOURCES: HealthDay News; Alison M. Stuebe, M.D., assistant professor, obstetrics and gynecology, School of Medicine, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, N.C.; Aug. 10/24, 2009, Archives of Internal Medicine; March 23, 2010, Diabetes Care, online; Dec. 3, 2009, Diabetes, online; March 5, 2010, presentation, American Heart Association's Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention annual conference, San Francisco; American Academy of Pediatrics, news release, Feb. 7, 2005; Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina, news release, Aug. 14, 2009; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (

Author: Karen Pallarito

Publication Date: July 31, 2010

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