Breast cancer is the most common diagnosed cancer leading to death among women in the U.S. Breast Cancer kills black women at a higher rate compared to white women despite the same economic and educational backgrounds. It once was thought that just reproduction helped to reduce the risk of breast cancers however, studies show that breastfeeding actually lowers the risk more! That is right, sitting around loving on your baby feeding your baby with your body helps lower your risk of breast cancer!
Breastfeeding or inducing lactation is a modifiable behavior that you can choose to do to help lower your risk, like choosing to exercise and change your diet in order lower your cholesterol. Breastfeeding also helps to reduce the risk for endometrial cancers AND ovarian cancer. It can also help reduce the risk of certain chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes.
Breastfeeding helps decrease the risk because the act of lactating changes the hormones and molecular histology in the breast. Much like pregnancy changes your body because of the different interaction of hormones, milk production does the same thing.
Older studies show that breastfeeding or inducing lactation can decrease your breast cancer risk by 14% if you do ANY breastfeeding. This number goes up the longer you breastfeed. Newer studies show 28% decrease risk if you breastfeed for at least 12 months!. Emerging studies shows that breastfeeding or inducing lactation has saved at least 20k deaths per year from breast cancer and if parents can nurse longer (12 months) they predict decreasing another 20k in deaths. All studies have showed that the benefit of decreased risk stays with you for a lifetime not just while you are nursing so no worries you do not have to nurse "forever". I know it feels that way sometimes though!
Black women, being more at risk for more aggressive types of breast cancer, can significantly decrease their risks by breastfeeding or inducing lactation. The longer the better, clearly, and any has been shown to be helpful as well as exclusive human milk feeding.
I personally understand that some parents do have some struggles with breastfeeding. The studies do not clearly state if full breastmilk production is necessary, as some state that these decreased risk are afforded to mothers even if they offer some formula, exclusively pump, and do not produce breastmilk for the entire year. There are also several societal barriers to breastfeeding that keeps parents from being able to take advantage of these health benefits. There have been some laws in place to protect parents like making sure that parents can breastfeed anywhere they have the right to be and also the Affordable Care Act making sure that parents can have the necessary pump breaks needed to maintain their milk supply while separated from the baby. States like Virginia have strengthened the Affordable Care Act by passing laws making sure that parents are protected.
Lactation Consultants (Ibclc), like myself, are doing the work supporting parents that are choosing to breastfeed get the help they need to make their goals and fighting the good fight to make sure these consultations are covered by insurance to make them more affordable.
Together we can help each other and you just keep on providing that milk for yourself and your baby!
Have questions about anything that I have mentioned in this blog post? Please leave a comment below or contact me here. I'd love to hear from you.
**Trigger Warning talk of miscarriage and infant loss**
Pregnancy and infant loss is not something that is talked about often and judging from the comments that Christy Teigen received when she announced her loss, we as a society should probably talk about it more.
It is a loss that is indescribable and difficult to understand. As someone who has had 2 miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy, I had no idea how to feel. I blamed myself, I blamed God, I blamed the world. I told no one except people I felt should know because I was ashamed—my body could not do the one thing that it was designed to do. The people I did tell had nothing comforting to say or I was either met with silence. Each loss was harder and harder. I never allowed myself to get “excited” about my sweet rainbow babies until I had them in my arms.
As a birth doula, I have sat with many mothers who had to leave the hospital without their babies and go home to empty decorated nurseries. I found myself being the only source of comfort when their family didn’t know what to do or how to do it. I do not always have the answers as I didn’t even have them for myself, but it is nice to know that you are supported and comforted and know that your love ones still love you.
1 in 4 mothers experience a miscarriage, a stillbirth, or an infant death. We need to talk about this more. We need to figure out how to support parents through this without forcing them to deal with it in silence. We as a society need to figure out how to let mothers know that their feelings are valid, and that they are scene, that their babies lived, and that their babies are loved. We need to allow them the space to grieve in the way that they feel necessary to bring about healing.
Talking it through with trusted family or a therapist, sharing your grief at a grief circle, or pumping breast milk and donate as legacy to your sweet angel. No matter how you choose to process your loss, it is the right choice for you. Your baby lived, and your baby is loved.
If you would love to share your story, I would love to hear about it and together we can process this as a community.
Dominique Gallo, IBCLC, RLC
Gallo Birth Services serves anyone in the U.S. virtually. Gallo Birth Services serves in-person all of the families of the Roanoke Valley including Roanoke City and County, Vinton, Salem, Blacksburg, Christianburg, and all surrounding areas.