Did you know if you breast-feed your baby for a year, it decreases your chances of getting breast cancer by almost 5 percent? If you continue to breast-feed beyond two years, you are 50 percent less likely to get breast cancer than a mother who didn't breast-feed.
Chinese women, who tend to breast-feed longer than women in western cultures, reduced their incidence of breast cancer by 63 percent if they breast-fed their children cumulatively for six years.
Baby girls who are breast-fed also have a 25 percent decreased risk of developing breast cancer when they are older, due to hormones and white blood cells in breast milk that support their immune system.
Despite this, three out of four women don't know that breast-feeding can prevent cancer. According to the World Health Organization Global Data Bank on Breast-Feeding, a study in pediatrics found that of 123 babies, only 44 percent were breast-fed.
In the UK, 40 percent of mothers bottle feed, and of the 60 percent that do breast-feed, most have stopped by the time the baby is six months old.
How Can Breast Feeding Prevent Cancer?
When a mother nurses her baby, the hormone estrogen is suppressed. This is why women who breast- feed often don't have a period for several months after their baby's birth. Cancer cells are sometimes dependant on the hormone estrogen for growth, so by inhibiting the hormone, you inhibit cancer.
At the end of nursing, the body gets rid of cells in the breast, some of which have DNA damage, and this also reduces the risk of cancer.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says:
"A recent review of evidence has shown that, on a population basis, exclusive breast-feeding for six months is the optimal way of feeding infants. Thereafter, infants should receive complementary foods with continued breast-feeding up to two years of age or beyond."
A lot of people mistakenly think that the advice to 'exclusively breast-feed' for six months means that a baby only needs breast milk for six months. This is wrong. Exclusive breast-feeding means that for the first six months of a life, a baby should only be given breast milk and nothing else (no formula and no solid food).