If you are in the process of deciding on breastfeeding vs formula feeding, here’s another reason to give breastfeeding a try: the benefits of breastfeeding for mom offer mothers some protection from serious health conditions.
1. Breastfeeding can reduce cancer risk
Breastfeeding seems to protect against several cancer types, including breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancer.
- Breast cancer. There is strong support for an association between breastfeeding and protection against breast cancer. One review of 27 studies found that breastfeeding could reduce the risk of hormone receptor-negative breast cancers (which can be more aggressive and harder to control than other types) by up to 20%.
It also seems to be clear that the longer you breastfeed, the lower your chances of getting breast cancer.[2,3] One review suggests that the risk of breast cancer can be reduced by about 2% if women breastfeed exclusively for the first six months after birth, and that the risk can be reduced by about 4% for 12 months of breastfeeding.
There are many factors hypothesized to be at play, including altered hormonal levels, physical changes in the breast that happen when milk is produced, reduction of toxins in the breast, and more.
- Ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding also can lower the risk of ovarian cancer. One meta-analysis of 19 studies found that women who breastfed had a significantly reduced risk for ovarian cancer compared to those who never breastfed. For every month of breastfeeding, women experienced a 2% reduced risk. The authors of the study conclude that eight to ten months may be most ideal for ovarian cancer protection.
- Endometrial cancer. One study found that the risk of endometrial cancer can be decreased by over 1% for every month women breastfeed. Again, there are probably numerous explanations, with a major reason for the association being related to altered hormone levels during lactation.
2. Breastfeeding can protect against heart disease
Many women don’t know that one of the breastfeeding benefits is a reduced cardiovascular disease risk. Several studies support this idea.
In one, women who breastfed all their children for three months had lower chances of having coronary artery calcification, aortic calcification, plaque in the carotid artery, and more. These changes in the vascular system can increase the risk for cardiovascular disease.
Researchers have also found that the longer women (aged 50 and under) breastfed in total in their lifetimes, the lower their blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol, and body mass index, all risk factors for heart disease.
3. Breastfeeding can help you lose pregnancy weight
Researchers also believe that the metabolic requirements of breastfeeding may help some women to return to their pre-pregnancy weight. The longer women breastfeed, the more likely they are to have lower weight gain from before pregnancy to after.
Women who exclusively breastfeed for three months can lose an average of nine pounds more than women who do not exclusively breastfeed for that time.
Babies benefit, too
Breastfeeding benefits don’t just apply to the mother. If you choose to breastfeed, your baby can also experience significant health benefits. Breastfed babies show lower rates of infections, diarrhea, and even leukemia, for example.[10-12]
For those women that can, the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months after birth. You can continue to breastfeed your baby for the first few years of life, introducing other appropriate foods as your child grows.
Not every breastfeeding mother can hit this six-month mark, and that’s OK. Health problems, difficulty latching, returning to work, and more other issues may make exclusive breastfeeding difficult, but there are still health benefits for even short-term breastfeeding. Do what you can for as long as you can and you and your baby will both benefit.
Follow these other tips for keeping yourself as healthy as possible during and after your pregnancy:
- 5 Natural Postpartum Depression Treatment Options
- Yoga Found Effective for Pregnancy Anxiety
- The Benefits of Working Out While Pregnant
Share your experience
Did you breastfeed? What helped you make the decision either way? What do you think are the most important breastfeeding benefits? Share your thoughts on breastfeeding in the comments section below.