What do breast cancer and breastfeeding have in common? Well lots of things! One obvious thing in common is both involve breast tissue. Did you know, the longer you breastfeed the more the risk of getting breast cancer declines. This is also as being dose dependant.
This makes lots of sense, since this is what one of our basic functions as mammals is.... to feed our offspring our breastmilk. That should be enough reason to at least breastfeed for some time or pump for some time for most women.
Did you also know that other mammals have a huge increase for developing cancers associated with the female reproductive system if they do not breastfeed offspring as well? You may ask, well what if a woman develops breast cancer while breastfeeding, or had breast cancer prior to having babies. A woman can still breastfeed her baby through treatments. There are some cancer agents which she may need to not give her baby her milk during the actual treatment, and some which may dry her supply up slightly or quite a bit. She can pump during this time to maintain her supply or keep what supply she does have and continue nursing after completion of whatever drug is deemed unsafe. This of course should always be discussed with her physician. IBCLC's such as myself can give information about each medication being use to bring to the physician. We can also give alternative medications to think about with the doctor to make the best educated decision for the nursing parent and her family. Before making any decision being fully informed of the pros and cons of each treatment is extremely important. After having breast cancer, she may be left with one breast. Many women have been able to breastfeeding their infants off of just one breast fully without supplementation. This can really help a woman heal mentally after her rough battle with cancer. During a battle with breast cancer a woman may find that she goes through a cascade of emotions and one of them is that her body is failing her or that her chances to breastfeeding are over. It can be a very empowering feeling to still be able to nourish her baby with her breast or breasts after fighting or during the fight against breast cancer.
Rarely do we hear about prevention of breast cancer being to breastfeed your offspring. This is one of the most natural things to think about when preventing breast cancer and other health issues. We many times talk about it as a benefit of breastfeeding. Its not spoken about when talking about breast cancer prevention specifically. As a society we need to change our thinking about breastfeeding having benefits and rather it being what we are supposed to normally do with our offspring. Instead of it being beneficial, we need to change the language that other feeding methods are not beneficial and come with risks associated with them, one of them is a greater risk of breast cancer in the child bearing person who does not breastfeed. I cannot remember who worded this in a similar way to me years ago.
Shortly after it being worded this way to me, I started changing my own wording when speaking or writing about the risk reduction of various diseases when a parent breastfeeds. This month is breast cancer awareness month. In raising awareness for breast cancer, we speak about prevention. This NEEDS to start including breastfeeding being a prevention measure. By tying the two together and making the correlation to everyone in society, we will both increase breastfeeding rates as well as decrease breast cancer rates. Both are a win win to society.