Women’s health is reason enough to breastfeed

Breastfeeding improves health for all ages.
Breastfeeding improves health for all ages.

We have just passed another Breast Cancer Awareness month bathed in breast cancer awareness messages. Let’s expand that discussion for a moment: breastfeeding has MANY health benefits for women. Protection against breast cancer is not the only benefit; add to that list protection against ovarian cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and obesity related issues, celiac and Crohn’s disease, as well as improving cardiovascular health. (Click on the quotes to review the sources.)

Breast Cancer

“It is estimated that the cumulative incidence of breast cancer in developed countries would be reduced by more than half, from 6.3 to 2.7 per 100 women by age 70, if women had the average number of births and lifetime duration of breastfeeding that had been prevalent in developing countries until recently. Breastfeeding could account for almost two-thirds of this estimated reduction in breast cancer incidence.

“…having ever breastfed was inversely associated with incidence of breast cancer among women with a family history of breast cancer.”

Ovarian Cancer

 “A long total duration of breastfeeding appears to be associated with a substantial reduction in the overall risk of ovarian cancer…”

“It is interesting to note that women who developed mastitis while breast-feeding had the lowest risk of ovarian cancer, those who breast-fed and did not develop mastitis had an intermediate risk of ovarian cancer, whereas those who never breast-fed had the highest rates of ovarian cancer.”


“Higher intensity of lactation was associated with improved fasting glucose and lower insulin levels at 6–9 weeks’ postpartum. Lactation may have favorable effects on glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity that may reduce diabetes risk after GDM [gestational diabetes] pregnancy.”

“…while lactation triggers bone loss in areas prone to fractures later in life—such as the hip, wrist, and spine—the lost bone was completely replaced with fresh, new bone within two years of delivery.”

Among postmenopausal women, increased duration of lactation was associated with a lower prevalence of hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, and cardiovascular disease.

•During pregnancy, the body creates fat stores around a woman organs/midsection. This fat is more dangerous in terms of cardiovascular health later in life. Breastfeeding helps mobilize this fat more efficiently.

Mothers who do not breastfeed their infants seem to be at increased risk of vascular changes associated with future cardiovascular disease. Research has suggested that one in 29 cases of postmenopausal hypertension could be avoided if mothers breastfed for at least 12 months during their reproductive years.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

“..suggests that breastfeeding is associated with a lower risk of RA, no matter if breastfeeding time is longer or shorter than 12 months.”

Metabolic Issues

*“During gestation, visceral fat accumulates, and insulin resistance and lipid and triglyceride levels increase. These changes appear to reverse more quickly, and more completely, with lactation.”

When I teach about breastfeeding, there are several points along the way that I say, “If there were no other good reason to breastfeed, this one would be enough.” Supporting life-long health for yourself is one of those reasons to breastfeed. It would be reason enough.

Sue Petracek, IBCLC (10/15)

See also:
Breastfeed: Prevent Breast Cancer in Both Mother and Baby

Breastfeeding and Breast Cancer: Part 1 (Finding/treating breast cancer while you are breastfeeding)
Breastfeeding and Breast Cancer: Part 2 (Breastfeeding provides protection for both mom and daughter)
Preventing Breast Cancer

Many health references can be found here: Dear Doctor…, a wonderfully written open letter to a health care professional suffering from a lack of current information.

We want to know what you think!