Can breastfeeding help prevent breast cancer?

31 July 2017 | Cancer prevention

Susannah Brown is Senior Science Programme Manager (Research Evidence) at World Cancer Research Fund International. She works on the Continuous Update Project.

Evidence from our recent report on breast cancer confirms that breastfeeding can reduce the risk of breast cancer. This week is World Breastfeeding Week, so what better time to explore this link further.

The evidence

Our report on breast cancer, published in May this year, found strong evidence that breastfeeding reduced the mother’s breast cancer risk. This confirms our previous findings from our Second Expert Report and highlights the importance of breastfeeding your baby.

Our research into what can increase or decrease the risk of gaining weight has shown that breastfed children are less likely to be overweight or obese in adult life. Maintaining a healthy weight is important for reducing the risk of 11 different cancers – so this gives us another reason to encourage women to breastfeed, if they can.

The challenges

We know breastfeeding is important – but it isn’t always easy, particularly in the early days. Many women face a number of challenges that can make breastfeeding so difficult that they can’t continue. The challenges include sore nipples, low or over supply of milk and plugged milk ducts. These challenges can at times be overcome, so it’s important that the right support is available to all women during lactation.

What we recommend

We recommend that mothers breastfeed infants exclusively (no other food or drink) for the first six months, if possible, and continue with complementary feeding afterwards. This recommendation is in line with the WHO recommendations on breastfeeding and UN Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding.

Learn more about our findings on breast cancer risk by reading our report.

Susannah Brown | 31 July 2017

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