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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Breastfeeding reduces your risk for breast, ovarian cancer, and more

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By Prof Raphael Nyarkotey Obu

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, and continuing even after solid foods are introduced, until at least age 1 year or until both mom and baby agree to call it quits.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding until 2 years old or longerTrusted Source because the benefits continue that long. These agencies recommend starting as early as one hour after birth for the biggest benefits.

The health benefits of breastfeeding a holistic as both the mother and the baby are the beneficiaries.

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Here, I examine the scientific impact of breastfeeding in this article.

Breastfeeding, mum

For the mother, a study by Dieterich et al.(2013) found that breastfeeding may help reduce the risk of heart disease, ovarian cancer, breast cancer, and type 2 diabetes. It also helps to lose the weight you gained while you were pregnant, though it doesn’t work for all.

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A more recent study by Babic et al.(2020)  also confirmed that those who breastfeed are more likely not to develop cancer and several diseases.

Thompson et al.(2017) study cements that when you breastfeed, the breast milk could fend off colds, the flu, and other infections while reducing your baby’s risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). 

Jarlenski et al.(2014) study found that when you breastfeed your baby, it helps to burn more calories, and after 3 months of lactation, you will see an increase in fat burning compared to those who do not breastfeed their babies.

Reduces depression

Hamdan A. Tamim(2012) study found that those who breastfeed are less likely to develop postpartum depression, compared to mothers who wean early or do not breastfeed.

Those who experience postpartum depression early after delivery are also more likely to have trouble breastfeeding and do so for a shorter duration

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a type of depression that can develop shortly after childbirth.

The longer you breastfeed, the more you are free from diseases

Two studies (Schwarz et al. 2010; Nguyen et al. 2019) made us understand that the longer you breastfeed, the lower you reduce your risk for breast and ovarian cancer. Hence, women who breastfeed have a lower risk for:

o          high blood pressure

o          arthritis

o          high blood fats

o          heart disease

o          type 2 diabetes

Breastfeeding, baby

Breast milk contains everything a baby needs for the first 6 months of life, in all the right proportions. Its composition even changes according to the baby’s changing needs, especially during the first month of life.

Adda Bjarnadottir(2020) explained that during the first days after birth, your breasts produce a thick and yellowish fluid called colostrum. It’s high in protein, low in sugar, and loaded with beneficial compounds. It’s truly a wonder food and not replaceable by formula.

Colostrum is the ideal first milk and helps the newborn’s immature digestive tract develop. After the first few days, the breasts start producing larger amounts of milk as the baby’s stomach grows.

The only thing that may be lacking from your magical milk supply is vitamin D. Unless you have a very high intake (and most of us don’t), your breast milk won’t provide enough. Vitamin D drops are usually recommended.

Breastmilk has antibodies

Studies have found that breast milk contains antibodies that protect the baby against viruses and bacteria in the early months.  This applies to colostrum, the first milk. Colostrum provides high amounts of immunoglobulin A (IgA), as well as several other antibodies.

Gopalakrishna et al.(2019) study reported that IgA protects the baby from being sick by forming a protective layer in the baby’s nose, throat, and digestive system.  For instance, when adults are attacked by viruses and bacteria,  they immediately produce antibodies. The same happens in the breastmilk to improve the immunity of the baby.

Breastfeeding fights diseases

Due to the many health benefits, the WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months.

A previous study by Dieterich et al.(2013) found that babies who are breastfed normally have fewer problems with:

o          ear infections(Li et al. 2014)- particularly exclusively and as long as possible, may protect against middle ear, throat, and sinus infections

o          childhood obesity- Grube et al.(2015) reported that breastfeeding should be done for more than 4 months.  The reason reported by Van et al.(2019)- breastfed babies have higher amounts of beneficial gut bacteria, which may affect fat storage.

o          Babies fed breast milk also have more leptin in their systems than formula-fed babies. Leptin is a key hormone for regulating appetite and fat storage.  Breastfed babies also self-regulate their milk intake.

o          Respiratory tract infections- Frank et al.(2019) study found that breastfeeding can protect against multiple respiratory and gastrointestinal acute illnesses.

o          Colds and infections. Babies exclusively breastfed for 6 months may have a lower risk of getting serious colds and ear or throat infections.

o          Gut infections. Breastfeeding is linked with a reduction in gut infections.

o          Intestinal tissue damage- Herrmann and Carroll(2014) study found that feeding preterm babies breast milk is linked with a reduction in the incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis life-threatening illness almost exclusively affecting neonates with a mortality rate as high as 50 percent. The pathophysiology of NEC is inflammation of the intestine leading to bacterial invasion causing cellular damage cellular death and necrosis of the colon and intestine.

o          Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)- Hauck et al.(2011) study found that breastfeeding reduced the risk of SIDS, especially when breastfeeding exclusively.

o          Allergic diseases- Munblit et al.(2017) study found that breastfeeding is linked to a reduced risk of asthma, atopic dermatitis, and eczema.

o          Bowel diseases- Xu et al.(2017) study found that babies who are breastfed may be less likely to develop Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

o          Diabetes- a report in the American Journal of Clinical  Nutrition explained that breastfeeding is linked to a reduced risk of developing type 1 diabetes and non-insulin-dependent (type 2) diabetes.

o          Childhood leukemia- A study by Rudant et al.(2010) found that breastfeeding reduced childhood leukemia.

Take home

Studies even reported that there are differences in brain development between breastfed and formula-fed babies (Brown Belfort M. 2017).  Breastfeeding babies may experience bonding, touch, eye contact, and intimacy in addition.

A previous study by Kramer et al.(2008) found that breastfed babies have higher intelligence scores and reduced behavioral problems as they grow.  These benefits are seen more in pre-term babies(Brown Belfort M, 2017), and revealed that pre-term babies benefit more from breastfeeding and brain development(Blesa et al. 2019).


Prof. Nyarkotey has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations to justify his write-ups. My articles are for educational purposes and do not serve as Medical advice for Treatment. I aim to educate the public about evidence-based scientific Naturopathic Therapies.

The writer is a Professor of naturopathic healthcare, a medical journalist, and a science writer. E. mail: [email protected].

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