A mother’s milk is the best possible nutrition for a newborn baby, but two recently published studies reinforce the fact that breast-feeding gives the mother health benefits as well—in reducing her risk of breast cancer and diabetes.
Concerning a lower risk of breast cancer, a recent study published in the Annals of Oncology analyzed nearly 40,000 cases of this cancer in women from around the world. The results were that breast-feeding, even for a relatively short period of time, reduces the risk of a particularly aggressive form of cancer (“hormone receptor negative cancer”) by up to 20%.
The researchers believe the reason for this is that the act of making milk matures the mammary tissue by triggering changes in the milk duct cells, making them more resistant to becoming cancerous. Dr. Marisa Weiss, one of the principal authors of the study, notes that:
“The mammary gland is immature and unable to do its job — which is to make milk — until it goes through a full-term pregnancy. Breast-feeding forces the breasts to finally grow up and get a job, and make milk, and show up for work every day and every night, and stop fooling around.”
Some researchers have even started to refer to the stage of breast-feeding as the “fourth trimester” of pregnancy. This period appears to complete the reproductive cycle, restoring the woman’s body back to normal, so for the rest of her life, she has a lower risk of certain diseases such as diabetes, and even heart disease.
Diabetes and breast feeding
Obstetricians have long advised women who develop high blood sugars during pregnancy to breast-feed so that they lower the risk of developing diabetes after giving birth. The recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine demonstrated how important breast-feeding is. The results showed that women who breast-fed for more than 10 months decreased their risk of developing long-term diabetes by almost 60%,
The lead author of this study, Dr. Erica Gunderson, notes that pregnancy is a major stress on the metabolism of a woman, but that breast-feeding seems to give the woman’s pancreas a needed rest from the demands of pregnancy. When a woman gives milk to the baby, her own sugar levels are lower, and her pancreas gland—which produces insulin—does not have to work as hard. This helps preserve her pancreas so it can work properly during the rest of the woman’s life.
Previous studies have strongly suggested other benefits for the woman who breast-feeds, including a lower risk for rheumatoid arthritis and ovarian cancer, and better cardiovascular health, including lower blood pressure. And these new studies gives even more support for the idea that breast feeding is a win:win situation: great for the of the baby as well as the mother.
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