Every October we recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a great chance to bring awareness to this incredibly important cause that has touched so many of us, and also a good opportunity to take a look at some interesting science: the research that shows how breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer for both you and your baby. 

Tinyhood Breastfeeding 101: Learn About Prenatal Prep, Pumping, and Common Challenges

What’s The Connection Between Breastfeeding And Breast Cancer?

Research points to a few different theories on how breastfeeding impacts cancer risk. The most popular theory is that since breastfeeding alters the menstrual cycle, a woman's lifetime exposure to estrogen is decreased. Estrogen has been found to fuel certain cancers, so decreased estrogen exposure is associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer. Reduced risk, of course, is unfortunately not equivalent to no risk and doesn't completely protect a woman from breast cancer -- we wish it did! But it is a start.

The research on breastfeeding and breast cancer is continually evolving. There's a lot we still don't understand. Recent studies have shown that breastfeeding seems to impact certain people's cancer risk and certain types of cancer more than others. Specifically:

1. Breastfeeding lowers the risk of breast cancer in those with a family history. According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, women who have an immediate family member with breast cancer have a higher risk factor of developing breast cancer, but those who had breastfed had a lower incidence of cancer than those women who had not. More specifically, the study found that women with a family history of breast cancer reduced their risk of premenopausal breast cancer by more than half if they breastfed. 

2. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of the most aggressive type of breast cancer. Research shows that women who have breastfed have a reduced risk of hormone receptor-negative breast cancers, which are more common in younger women and generally have a poorer prognosis than other subtypes of breast cancer.

3. Breastfeeding not only lowers mom’s risk of breast cancer, but it also lowers your baby girl’s risk too!  When it comes to breast cancer, the more you breastfeed and the longer you breastfeed, the better -- for you and baby. However, if you can’t breastfeed for whatever reason, don’t panic! Breastfeeding isn’t the only way to reduce cancer risk. Other important lifestyle factors play a role as well, including:

  • Physical exercise
  • Nutrition/diet
  • Red meat consumption
  • Cigarette smoking

Tinyhood Breastfeeding 101: Taught By International Board Certified Lactation Consultant

For general information and expert advice on breastfeeding, check out our Breastfeeding 101 course, taught by a leading International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.