Breast-Feeding Is Good for Mothers, Not Just Babies, Studies Suggest

New York Times 23 November 2015
Breast milk may provide the ideal nourishment for an infant, but two recent studies are putting a different spin on the bottle-versus-breast debate, suggesting it is mothers, and not just babies, who may have much to gain from breast-feeding.

One study found that breast-feeding may help protect women from a particularly vicious type of breast cancer. The other suggests that breast-feeding may act as a sort of “reset” button for metabolism after pregnancy, helping women who had gestational diabetes avoid becoming lifelong diabetics.

The findings complement earlier research showing that women who breast-feed have a lower risk for breast and ovarian cancers, Type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. Breast-feeding may also promote cardiovascular health, including a healthy blood pressure.

“This is a win-win — it’s good for the baby, too,” said Dr. Eleanor Bimla Schwarz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, Davis. She called for paid maternity leave, citing earlier research showing that near-universal breast-feeding in the United States could spare an estimated 5,000 women a breast cancer diagnosis every year and cut nearly 14,000 heart attacks. “For all the women who want to do something to reduce breast cancer, this is doable. We need to make sure that’s part of the debate,” she said.

The latest report on the effects of breast-feeding on breast cancer analyzed dozens of studies encompassing nearly 40,000 cancer cases from around the world. The study, published late last month in Annals of Oncology, found that breast-feeding reduced the risk of hormone receptor negative tumors, a very aggressive type of breast cancer, by up to 20 percent. Even a brief period of breast-feeding reduced the risk of these hard-to-treat tumors, which are more common in African-Americans and younger women.

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