I find when I am at a conference much emphasis is put on the benefits of breastfeeding for the baby and admittedly the list is long. However, mum reaps multiple benefits as well, such as decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. More recent findings also show a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes but oh my gosh, women do not breastfeed have been found to have on average 7.5 cm of extra fat around their waist. To boot they also have more fat around their internal organs. Now that’s not good for the looks or health.
A recent meta-analysis, which is the highest quality analysis of multiple studies that can be done found that breastfeeding women had less risk of cancer of the lining of the uterus (endometrial cancer). The difference with this one is that they can adjust for things that might predispose you to endometrial cancer in the first place like BMI (fatness), time since you were last pregnant and how long you breastfed for.
Adjusting for all of these things means the answer or result is less likely to be wrong or should I say more likely to be right.
Endometrial cancer is the most common gynaecological cancer and is on the rise globally. More than 57,000 women in the US, Canada and Australia are diagnosed with endometrial cancer annually. The most common symptom is heavy bleeding however; luckily most cases can be cured. There are a number of things that put you at higher risk of endometrial cancer such as high BMI and increased levels of the hormone oestrogen.
Why does breastfeeding protect against endometrial cancer?
According to the research women that breastfed up to 6 or 9 months had the lowest risk of endometrial cancer. It is not known exactly why breastfeeding protects women but scientists suspect that it is because women that breastfeed have lower oestrogen levels. Lower oestrogen results in less cell division of the lining of the uterus hence less chance for things to go awry. Women that breastfeed a lot (especially exclusively in the first 6 months) had the lowest levels of oestrogen. Some breastfeeding women have levels as low as postmenopausal women! With such low levels it is also less likely that you will produce an egg, from your ovaries, to be fertilised. Its no wonder it can be hard to get pregnant when breastfeeding. Increased birth spacing is yet another benefit of breastfeeding for mothers to add to the list.
More is better
Mostly the benefits of breastfeeding increase the long the mother breastfeeds. This goes for both the mother and infant. So with data like this we should all be working to help mothers feed their babies for as long as they can. Indeed accommodating breastfeeding women in the workplace is fundamental and with a role model like Senator Larissa Waters we may well have a chance to make it happen