Breastfeeding for Six Months Can Significantly Cut Risk of Cancer Death—As Can Less Alcohol and Staying in Shape, Study Finds
By Beth Greenfield, Shine Staff
PostsBy Beth Greenfield, Shine Staff | Healthy Living
Breastfeeding is good for you, study says.
Women still confused by the breast milk vs. formula debate may want to listen up, as a new study has found exclusively breastfeeding your baby for at least six months could cut your chances of dying from cancer and all other diseases by 17 percent—and death by heart disease alone by 8 percent.
The mass study, published online Wednesday in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, examined breastfeeding and other lifestyle recommendations from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and its umbrella World Cancer Research Fund International and their effects on nearly 380,000 people in several European countries over 13 years.
It found that both women and men could cut their risk of death on average by a third, simply by adhering to one or several healthy lifestyle choices: keeping lean but not underweight, eating a plant-based diet, being active for at least 30 minutes daily, avoiding sugary drinks and highly caloric foods, lowering meat intake, and limiting alcohol intake.
But findings on the additional breastfeeding recommendation for women represented perhaps the freshest recommendation in the mix.
“No previous study has investigated the association between breastfeeding and mortality in the mother,” lead researcher Anne-Claire Vergnaud told Yahoo! Shine. Dr. Vergnaud, of London’s Imperial College faculty of medicine, added that a previous study found “failure to breastfeed” related to an increased risk of premenopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes and other conditions.
There are several connections between breastfeeding and longevity, AICR Director of Research Susan Higginbotham explained to Yahoo! Shine. “Longer breastfeeding means fewer menstrual cycles and reduced lifetime exposure to the hormonal factors, especially estrogen, that influence breast cancer risk,” she said. “Physical changes in breast tissue that accompany milk production provide some protection as well.” She added, that the shedding of breast tissue during lactation and the cell death after also decrease cancer risk, “because cells have potential DNA damage get shed before they can spark the cancer process.”
There are even benefits for the baby, Dr. Higginbotham said, as breastfeeding decreases the likelihood that a child will be overweight during early adulthood, and being obese or overweight are major risk factors for seven different kinds of cancer.
Currently, only 16 percent of women in the U.S. exclusively breastfeed their babies for six months, according to the CDC. That percentage jumps to 36 for those exclusively breastfeeding for three months, and 47 for those who breastfeed for six months but combine it with using other nutrition sources.
For the study, researchers examined the data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC), one of the world’s largest ongoing studies of diet, lifestyle and cancer. At the end of the study, nearly 24,000 participants had died of various causes. Participants in the highest healthy-lifestyle score category (5-6 points for men, 6-7 points for women) had a 34 percent lower chance of death than those in the lowest category (0-2 points for men, 0-3 points for women).
But even adhering to just one of the lifestyle recommendations—developed by AICR and WCRF in 2007—can save your life, according to the report. Maintaining a healthy BMI, for example, can lower your risk of disease-caused mortality by 22 percent, while eating a plant-based diet can lower it by 21 percent.
“We’ve known for years that following AICR’s lifestyle advice could cut the worldwide incidence of cancer cases by about one-third,” Dr. Higginbotham said of the study results. “Today we have evidence on mortality, which shows that this same practical advice could also save millions of lives from cancer and other chronic diseases around the world.”
When Serena Tremblay responded to a call to share breastfeeding photos on The Leaky Boob Facebook wall, she didn’t think she was sharing anything extraordinary as she sat at the computer with both her sons, Gooney Bear-17 months and Gorgeous-3 years, with her and her husband making dinner. It was the first breastfeeding photo she had of Gooney Bear and she just wanted to share. Including a bit of explanation, the Alberta, Canada mom celebrated her breastfeeding success with the community on The Leaky Boob:
“A nurse helping my 1 day old son nurse while I was in the ICU following his birth. At this point I was a quadriplegic and could only feel his soft hair and skin when he was placed by my neck to cuddle. Breastfeeding is the reason he was allowed to stay with me in the hospital for 5 months while I lived on the physical rehabilitation unit learning how to walk again (complications from when he was born). It’s amazing how much baby stuff you can fit in a hospital room. We are still breastfeeding strong at 16 months! If this is not a success story I don’t know what is ”
Within minutes there were hundreds of responses and within hours, thousands of shares. The photo went viral, moving across the internet as an inspirational image and celebrating not just one woman’s breastfeeding success story against all odds, but celebrating every breastfeeding success story for all women.
Even if that photo captured Gooney Bear’s one and only feeding at the breast, this is a breastfeeding success story. As it is, however, Gooney Bear is now 17 months old and still breastfeeding and these weren’t the only issues Serena and Gooney Bear had to overcome. Together the pair battled tongue tie for 9 weeks, needing to use a nipple shield, dairy, soy, and gluten sensitivities, and all that on top of the 5 months Serena was hospitalized.
The magnitude of attention sharing this one photo received was a bit overwhelming for Serena. To her, while this photo documents a personal success story and extraordinary time in her own life, it is also something that just is. We don’t always realize how our stories, our struggles and triumphs, can impact someone else. People were so inspired by Serena’s photo; moms told her they were getting ready to quit breastfeeding due to difficulties and her photo encouraged them to find a way to keep going.
“Someone else is in tears, not sure they can keep going, but they see my picture and they think they can do it, they can get through what they are struggling with.” Said Serena when she and I talked on the phone last week.
The result of a rare birth injury, Serena was fully quadriplegic after the birth of her second son on October 19, 2010. Her memory of everything following his birth is full of different events but lots of holes and no sequential order. She was intubated, lucid, in the ICU, and could only feel sensation from her neck up. The nurses and her husband would place Gooney Bear in the crook of her neck so he could snuggle and so she could feel him at least a little.
Nobody really knew what to expect for Serena’s recovery. She regained the use of her arms on day 2 and finally saw Gorgeous again for the first time on the 24th, 5 days after the birth of his little brother.
“One of the hardest moments I’ve ever gone through, you know? When he walked into the room, it felt like he was shy and didn’t know me anymore. He was 22 months at that time. After a little bit he came and sat on the bed with me and had a snuggle. It was very hard.” She shared.
There’s no doubt Serena Tremblay is an incredibly strong woman. Fighting an uphill battle with her body, she never gave up. But she says that’s not how she got through that difficult time.
So how did she get through it? In talking with Serena one main theme emerged: support. Her husband. The nurses. Her family. The other patients on the rehabilitation floor when she moved there. Family members of other patients. The hospital volunteers. The lactation consultant. How did she get through it? With support. Lots and lots of support.
In the face of not knowing what was going to happen to his wife, Serena’s husband, a heavy duty mechanic, stayed with her and then with Gooney Bear. When she was in the ICU, he slept in her bed on the maternity ward so he could be with their baby. He advocated for breastfeeding for the pair and he and the nurses took turns helping their precious baby boy latch. Without asking, he took pictures, a bunch of pictures and that’s how the first feed was captured on film, something for which Serena is very thankful.
The nurses on the maternity ward went above and beyond, the first nurse coming down to hand express Serena so her little boy could have his mom’s colostrum that first day. There is much love and gratitude in Serena’s voice as she speaks of her nurses, they were heros that got her through every day. From that time hand expressing her milk, the nurses just kept bringing the baby over on demand, whenever he was hungry, to the ICU to breastfeed until her husband or grandmother could help her or she could do it herself.
Never once did she hear anyone say “why don’t you just put him on the bottle.” People said that, people that weren’t involved, but not the nursing staff.
It’s clear to Serena not only how she got through, but how she went on to have a positive and ongoing successful breastfeeding experience with Gooney Bear. ”Support, support, support. I’d like to narrow it down and say it was one person but it was everyone. Why am I successful? Probably only because of support and because I was determined, I just wanted to do it. Gooney Bear was able to stay with me in the hospital because I chose to breastfeed. If we had given him bottles they would have sent him home with my husband.”
At a time when nurses, doctors, and hospitals often get a bad rap about providing insufficient breastfeeding support and sometimes down right sabotaging breastfeeding relationships, Serena’s story not only offers encouragement for moms encountering breastfeeding struggles or indeed as a testimony to the strength of the human spirit; her story also gives hope for what true breastfeeding support in the hospital can look like. Serena’s hospital didn’t realize at the time, but they’ve gone on to provide breastfeeding support extending well beyond this one patient.
When her tube was removed and she was finally able to speak, Serena refused to say anything until she was holding Gooney Bear: she had yet to tell him she loved him.
“I wouldn’t speak to the nurses because I wanted my first words to be ‘I love you Gooney Bear.”
Through out her 5 month hospital stay, ICU for 4 days, maternity ward for 1 month, and the rehabilitation unit for 4 months; Serena was able to keep Gooney Bear with her, breastfeeding on demand and pumping for him to have expressed milk while she was at one of her regular therapy appointments. Managing her way around the ward and even the whole hospital, Serena says how it’s amazing how much you can do in a wheelchair with a nursing pillow and a baby on your lap. Often a breastfeeding baby. During that time she dealt with many of the common issues breastfeeding moms face. Once a nurse pulled a double shift and helped care for Gooney Bear during the night so she could work to get rid of a stubborn clogged duct before it turned into mastitis. Even for the regular every day challenges of parenting life she had support, the nurses and other patients or family of patients would take turns holding Serena’s little guy so she could eat, after all, who would turn down cuddling a precious baby?
Today many of those relationships continue, their support and all that Serena and Gooney Bear gave back formed bonds of friendship that last. Friends from the rehabilitation unit remain in their lives. Serena and her family go back and visit the hospital staff regularly and they are all happy to see them, often crying at the progress Serena has made since she left the hospital over a year ago. Her recovery has been remarkable and though it’s ongoing she’s accomplished so much and doesn’t take for granted what she can do. Their family is like any other family, they like to do things every normal family likes to do, “we just have to do them a little differently” Serena shares. Their friends understand, they were there, they have seen where they’ve come from, they supported them in the journey and in the ongoing part of that journey today.
One of the nurses that helped Serena so much is expecting her first baby soon. Serena is looking forward to being able to support her now, encourage her in her own breastfeeding and parenting journey. Understanding how crucial support is, Serena is already there.
“It was a horrible thing and I wish it hadn’t happen – but it did and so many good things came about from it… if my story can help one mom to get support, receive support, or give support then it was worth it.” And so Serena shares her photo and her story.
Sometimes I am asked why people share breastfeeding photos on Facebook and other social media settings. This is why. It’s celebrating our personal triumphs- whatever they may be; sharing a special moment, encouraging the global community of mothers by normalizing breastfeeding, inspiring others, and giving support. Thousands of people have been inspired and encouraged by one photo with a simple caption. Our stories make a difference and if a picture is worth a thousand words then sharing breastfeeding photos is like breastfeeding support spreading exponentially around the world. In the global community we’ve moved on to via the internet, sharing our photos and stories online can often be the start of support for someone. Just ask Serena, you never know how one image can make a difference.
My gratitude to Serena for being so brave in sharing the original photo in the first place and then to be willing to open up and share more of her story for my readers here. All photos in this post are the property of Serena Tremblay and used with permission. To protect the privacy of her family, Serena opted to use nicknames for her children and as the details regarding the birth injury were not important to the point of the story, she asked that they not be included in this article. With an open medical investigation into Serena’s case, we appreciate your respect of her privacy on these details. ~Jessica
Let’s hear it for New York!
Not Another Mom Blog is a regular satirical feature exploring all the vital, life-saving, keeping-your-child-from-growing-old-alone advice out there. NAMB: Because every mother needs something else to worry about.
Hey, I think breastfeeding is awesome. I breast fed, never even considered not breastfeeding, and I enjoyed doing it. Breast is the freakin’ best.
Good thing Mayor Bloomberg has finally realized this fact and is implementing some real change in NYC hospitals. Moms have so many choices to make on the arrival of their little bundle. Cloth or disposable, infant or convertible seat, whether or not to use gender specific pronouns…But there’s one choice mothers won’t have to make any more—bottle or breast!
Mayor Bloomberg, the world’s foremost expert on childhood nutrition, parenting, and health of all people in general, is also the father of this program that provides relief for those struggling with choosing soft drink sizes. Thankfully, size doesn’t matter with…
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Mothers who have had a breast reduction and want to nurse may be told they are likely to have poor milk production. They might even be discouraged from trying to nurse at all after hearing or reading stories about women who were not able to nurse to their satisfaction. This can be frustrating and confusing. I can only imagine that it might also cause some anguish if one is craving the experience of breastfeeding for either herself or her baby.
In addition to the women’s personal stories, this article will provide you with information, tip and go-to resources based on the experiences of two women who breastfeed after a reduction (BFAR).
I hope their narratives and insights will serve as a source of inspiration and support to women seeking to explore their breastfeeding possibilities.
ONE WOMAN’S STORY
I had a reduction more than 10 years before getting pregnant, and at that point I had no clue how much I would want to breastfeed. I was told I wouldn’t be able to, but I didn’t think it mattered to me that much at the time.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I decided I wanted to try anyway, so I did a little reading and took the hospital-based breastfeeding preparation class. Right after my son’s birth, I started pumping with a hospital grade pump. I pumped immediately after nursing in order to try to increase my milk supply.
I took all the recommended herbs and teas and I paid attention to my fluid intake and diet. Despite all of this, my supply was very low (about 1/4-1/2 oz per breast at my peak.) My son was frustrated and obviously not getting nearly enough to eat. I wasn’t aware of milk-sharing possibilities (such as donated breast milk) so I wasn’t doing that. We supplemented with formula and I kept at it for about six weeks. I was in tears several times a day, feeling like a failure, and exhausted from the normal new mom stuff, plus so much extra pumping.
I saw a lactation consultant around five weeks postpartum, but in retrospect, it was too little too late. I had already passed the point of my own tolerance. There were also latch issues that should have been addressed much earlier that had led to cracking, bleeding, vasospasms, etc. Though it was quite hard for me to stop breastfeeding, I simply didn’t feel like I could continue. Part of the lesson that I learned was that if you’re not prepared for the work it will take, it could sabotage your efforts.
A SECOND BABY; A SECOND CHANCE
When I got pregnant again, I was determined to have a better experience the second time around. First and foremost, I realized that I needed to change my expectations about the quantity of milk I was producing and to focus more on the quality of the breastfeeding. I also knew I needed to be better prepared.
As part of my preparation I read two books by Diana West that were extremely helpful: Defining Your Own Success: Breastfeeding after Reduction and The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk.
I highly recommend reading these books before giving birth because they can help you plan mentally and emotionally for the breastfeeding experience. They can also help you practically by allowing you to explore your options for herbal supplements and medications prior to the birth. In this way you can get what you need in advance and have it on hand. Preparing for the breastfeeding experience in advance also allows you to have support in support in place (websites, lactation consultants) before you give birth.
Reading the books prior to birth also gives you enough familiarity that you can easily flip to relevant sections while in the midst of working through whatever nursing challenges you and your baby are facing. It can be hard to thoroughly read and absorb new and detailed information when you’re sleep deprived and have raging hormones postpartum!
There’s a web forum called BFAR that can serve as a resource for moms. You can sign up while you are pregnant and get advice from women who are currently breastfeeding after reduction.
THE IMPORTANCE OF A LACTATION CONSULTANT
I planned to see a lactation consultant pretty much immediately after the birth of my child so that I could work on everything I possibly could. I also had to “define my own success,” which for my particular medical circumstances still meant a pretty small supply. This time, however, I was able to work on latch issues right away, which helped with the comfort issues.
I would highly recommend a prenatal consultation with a lactation consultant who has experience working with women who have had breast reductions. It might even be worth interviewing a few lactation consultants before the birth of the child so you can find one with whom you will be comfortable working and who is familiar with BFAR.
USING A SUPPLEMENTAL NURSING SYSTEM (SNS)
In order to supplement a baby’s milk intake during breastfeeding while allowing the baby to latch on to the breast, a SNS is often recommended or desired by women who want to breastfeed but are not producing as much milk as the baby need. The SNS involves a small plastic bottle with tubes attached to it. The tubes are taped to the mother’s chest and the infant receives milk from this system while latching onto the breast. Through the SNS system you can supplement your own breast milk with donated milk or formula.
During my second pregnancy, the lactation consultant and I worked together to use the SNS which was a good way to get my daughter the quantity of milke she needed while nursing. Using the SNS system also provided the nipple stimulation needed for milk production which actual nursing provides so much better than a pump. I still needed to pump several times a day as well, but not quite as constantly as the first time.
A picture of the SNS from Medela website.
GALACTAGOGUES (MILK PRODUCING SUBSTANCES)
“The term “galactagogue” means any substance that is known to increase milk production or milk ejections.” This can include herbal teas, prescription medications, and herbal supplements, many of which have traditionally been used in other cultures for years.
Some herbs that can be used to increase milk supply include marshmallow root, nettle, fenugreek, blessed thistle, and goat’s rue.
Domperidone (DPD) is a prescription medication which is not available in the US; however, it is widely used in Europe and Australiafor low supply. With DPD, technically you can get it in the US, but only from compounding pharmacies (pharmacies that uniquely create drugs to individuals’ specific needs); however, it can be difficult or impossible to do it this way, and many doctors in the U.S. won’t write the prescription. Medications can also be obtained via on-line only pharmacies or through Canadian pharmacies with a physical location in Canada (in which case the pharmacy is regulated in Canada) which also offer sales on-line. Some companies will require a prescription which, again, your physician or OB may or may not choose to provide.
One option is to obtain the medication from the cheapest online pharmacy one can find. However, there is no assurance regarding the quality or safety of their products. A commonly used on-line pharmacy for obtaining DPD is http://www.inhousepharmacy.biz.
(Disclaimer: this blog is not endorsing or recommending any specific pharmacy for obtaining DPD. This is a discussion I would have with my physician.)
Remember, however, that each woman is different in her causes for low milk supply and the solution. Work with a doctor, lactation consultant, or herbalist to determine what is right for you!
According to www.lowmilksupply.org:
“There is no definitive recipe for making more milk. There are different causes of low milk production, so the techniques that work for one mother are not necessarily the best methods for another….the effectiveness of the techniques used to increase milk production depends on the actual cause, such breastfeeding management…or damage to your ducts and nerves, such as from breast surgery…Techniques to increase milk production are most effective when they specifically target the causes, which are not always a single factor.”
Be sure to determine what treatment is right for YOU.
A healthy diet and adequate (but not excessive) water intake is important for lactating mothers. Foods which have been associated with higher levels of milk production include oatmeal, carrots, beets and leafy green vegetables. For more information on diet and lactation, here is an article on Foods That Increase Milk Production.
In addition, certain substances have been shown to decrease milk supply and should therefore be avoided. They include sage, caffeine, estrogen (birth control pills) and decongestants.
DEFINING SUCCESS: THERE’S NO RIGHT OR WRONG WAY
With this system of SNS, pumping, herbs, prescription medication, skin-to-skin contact and diet, we eventually got to a point where she would just nurse for awhile without using the SNS anymore, and then if she was still hungry, I’d supplement. My body generally was able to provide about a quarter to a half of her nutritional needs which was a big success.
But more than that, it was the nursing relationship that I feel the best about. It was good! After a lot of “blood, sweat and tears” I actually enjoyed it! She obviously did too. I will always cherish that experience with her. I loved it that we were co-sleeping and because I had persevered. There were times I could nurse her back to sleep at night without needing to supplement because she didn’t need much milk. I loved dozing in the wee hours of the morning with her nursing and both of us falling back asleep several times. It felt so right.
So I guess the wisdom I have to share is that breastfeeding after reduction can be truly beautiful and “successful” but one of the keys is preparation. You will need to work hard to educate yourself and to prepare for “success” in whatever way you end up defining it. You will also need to get some support in place ahead of time. It will likely take a lot of work and perseverance – and possibly some altered expectations – but with the right amount of knowledge and support, you will likely find your own route to “success” and it can become one of your most treasured experiences.
Many thanks to Kimberly (kimberlyinmpls at yahoo.com) and Jeanine (jeaninedorfman at yahoo.com) for their contributions to this blog post and for sharing their stories, wisdom, experience, and advice for other moms!
DISCLAIMER: THE AUTHOR OF THIS BLOG AND THE CONTRIBUTORS TO THIS ARTICLE ARE NOT MEDICAL DOCTORS AND THE INFORMATION IN THIS ARTICLE IS NOT INTENDED AS MEDICAL ADVICE. PLEASE CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN, OB, OR ALTERNATIVE HEALTH PRACTITIONER TO DETERMINE THE BEST COURSE OF TREATMENT FOR YOU TO INCREASE YOUR MILK SUPPLY.
“I felt that the article in TIME on attachment parenting was unfortunately a tad extreme. I support attachment parenting 100%… And have a very happy and healthy little girl to show for it. It’s time we support what’s healthy (breast feeding) instead of judge it.”
I think this picture of Maggie Gyllenhall is my favorite of the celebrity breastfeeding pictures because this what the reality should and could be. It’s normal to breastfeed in public and we shouldn’t have to work hard to cover it up to protect those who are uncomfortable. Plus it casts a light of normalcy on a famed figure.
Breastfeeding in public is not a novel concept. It’s covering up and hiding the act that is a recent development. Here are some anecdotal insights into breastfeeding around the world.
For instance, did you know that:
- In Iran, “Even though women are forced to wear head covering in public, people breastfeed everywhere in public and it is considered not a sexual act. Similarly women breastfeed in front of their family members and friends openly.”
- Ghana is a very conservative country, yet women breastfeed “without cover and without shame.”
- In Ghana, If you don’t breastfeed your baby in public when it cries people will think the baby is not yours.
- In Egypt “Not breastfeeding is sometimes frowned upon.”
- In Ghana, “Bottlefeeding is for orphans, babies whose mothers cannot produce enough milk, upper class wannabes and expatriates. Ghanaian women breastfeed – everywhere and anywhere.” And that “…this is not the ‘Africans run around naked’ thing. There are very high levels of decency and even tight pants are frowned upon. But your baby’s gotta eat!”
- In Kenya, “Breastfeeding in public is normal” and that “Breasts, especially of a nursing mother, are not regarded as sexual.”
- In Kenya, Breastfeeding until 2 years old is quite common.
- In Liberia, “People don’t have problem with mothers breastfeeding their kids anywhere in public. Mothers breastfeed wherever the baby request for food, they feed him/she to be satisfy. Our babies Mother don’t have problem of breastfeeding their in public.” They are proud of the fact that they are a mother.
- In China “Breastfeeding is viewed as a positive thing, and breastfeeding in public is fine.”
As I mentioned, we (meaning those of us in the U.S. that feel that breastfeeding women need to hide in the bathroom) really need to catch up with the rest of the world. Economic and technological advancment should not result in behaviors that are actually backwards in movement. Sexualizing the breast to the point that feeding your child in public or in uniform, be it military or otherwise, is discouraged and looked upon in disdain is a social, ethical and moral crime.
For more anecdotes on breastfeeding around the world, visit http://www.007b.com/public-breastfeeding-world.php
Kissing Kids on the Lips (www.singlemomontherun.com)
What is a Doula and Why Do I Need One? (www.singlemomontherun.com)
The Power of Breastmilk: Kills HIV Virus! (www.singlemomontherun.com)
Breastfeeding My Toddler—Why I Let My Children Decide When to Stop, Not Society!
Thank you, Leigia, for sharing your experience with the Mamapedia community.
It has only been in the last 100 years or so that breastfeeding in public has become a taboo. And it is in western cultures that are based in Puritanic religions where there is a high degree of modesty (think chastity belts). We need to break free from these Puritanical roots and move forward (or backwards as the case may be) and embrace breastfeeding as an act of child-rearing, not as an immoral or impure act that people feel they must avert their eyes from.