• Rosamund McFadden

Understanding the Facts Behind the Headlines: Breastfeeding Benefits Part1

We all hear people like me banging on about how great breastfeeding is and people will often say ‘Yeh I know it’s the best for baby but…..” So here I want to tell the facts of what it actually does rather just the blanket statement that there are many benefits to breast feeding. In 2016 a review of breastfeeding across the world showed that most mothers breastfed their baby at some point no matter the level of income of their country.


If a mother breastfeeds, she reduces here risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Now that’s a huge claim but the research backs these claims and is constantly being updated and added [1, 2, 5]


Breast tissue varies throughout a female’s life due to changes in hormones or environmental factors. Hormones also play a role in the growth of tumour cells and hormone receptive cancers are the most common of the breast cancers [5]. Breastfeeding reduces the number of periods a mother will have which reduces the amount of oestrogen and other hormones that influence cancer risk. The studies have shows a greater risk reduction the longer the mother breastfeeds for and this makes sense because she will have a longer time without a period.

Lööf-Johnson [3] in 2016 found that by breastfeeding for at least 6 months reduces her risk of dying from breast cancer if diagnosed.

During a breastfeeding journey there is an ‘exfoliation’ of breast tissue and when the baby has weaned from the breast the breast cells go through a stage called ‘apoptosis’ (one of my favourite words) where cells with damaged DNA and mutations are destroyed. This is another reason breastfeeding is attributed to the reduction breast cancer risk.


A recent American study Mondugno et al , 20194 found that there is a 30 % reduction in the risk of epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC) which is also dose dependant and the protection can last up to 30 years. They also found that the earlier a mother breastfed in her life the greater protection she has. Another study showed that breastfeeding has a direct impact on an overall reduction in cancer cases of 2,582 cancer cases in 20151.

There is less evidence to explain why but the theory again is due to hormones. During breastfeeding as we have said before a mother has less periods and therefore, she ovulates less reducing the amount of the hormones oestrogen and gonadotrophin [5].


1. Brown, K.F., Rumgay, H., Dunlop, C. et al. The fraction of cancer attributable to modifiable risk factors in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom in 2015. Br J Cancer 118, 1130–1141 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41416-018-0029-6

2. Lambertini, M, et al (2016). Reproductive behaviors and risk of developing breast cancer according to tumor subtype: A systematic review and meta-analysis of epidemiological studies, Cancer Treatment Reviews, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27529149

3. Lööf-Johanson, M (2016). Breastfeeding Associated with Reduced Mortality in Women with Breast Cancer, Breastfeeding Medicine, doi:10.1089/bfm.2015.0094


4. Modugno, F, Goughnour, S, Wallack, D, et al, (2019). Breastfeeding factors and risk of epithelial ovarian cancer. Gynecologic Oncology 2019 January 25 https://read.qxmd.com/read/30686553/breastfeeding-factors-and-risk-of-epithelial-ovarian-cancer

5. World Cancer Research Fund International, American Institute for Cancer research; Continuous Update Project


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