Breastfeeding for Cancer Prevention

Posted on by DCPC
Mother breastfeeding son
One of the many benefits of breastfeeding is that it can lower a mother’s risk of some cancers.

Erica H. Anstey, PhD, MA, CLC
CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity
Ginny Kincaid, MPH
CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control

Did you know that breastfeeding can lower a mother’s risk for some cancers?

We are going to talk about the connection between breastfeeding and cancer prevention in honor of World Breastfeeding Week, an annual celebration the first week of August that recognizes global action to support women in their efforts to breastfeed. This week celebrates breastfeeding as an investment in health.

Most people know there are many benefits to breastfeeding. We’ve probably all heard that it’s the best source of nutrition for most babies and provides many health benefits for infants. The health benefits for women who breastfeed, however, are less commonly known. In addition to lowering a mother’s risk for type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, breastfeeding can also lower a mother’s risk of breast and ovarian cancers. A recent study found that only about 1 in 4 people think that a woman is less likely to develop breast cancer later in life if she breastfeeds. It’s important to know that breastfeeding helps not only the baby’s health but also the mother’s health too!

What is the current recommendation for breastfeeding?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for about the first 6 months of life with continued breastfeeding after the introduction of solid foods for 1 year or longer.

How many women in the United States breastfeed?

Although most infants receive some breast milk, most are not exclusively breastfed or continue to breastfeed as long as recommended. Four out of 5 infants start out breastfeeding, but only 1 in 4 infants are still exclusively breastfed at 6 months. There are also major disparities, or differences among different groups, for breastfeeding. For example, black infants are 15% less likely to have ever been breastfed than white infants. These disparities are improving some.

What are some of the benefits of breastfeeding for infants and mothers?

Breastfeeding is important for overall health. Infants that are breastfed have a lower risk of asthma, obesity, ear and respiratory infections, sudden infant death syndrome, and gastrointestinal infections such as diarrhea. Breastfeeding also lowers a mother’s risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and breast and ovarian cancers.

How does breastfeeding lower the risk of breast and ovarian cancers?

One reason may be that when a woman is breastfeeding, she experiences hormonal changes that may delay the return of her menstrual periods. This reduces her lifetime exposure to hormones such as estrogen, which are linked to an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

What is CDC doing to increase breastfeeding rates in the United States?

CDC supports breastfeeding by tracking how long babies are breastfed, promoting best practices in health care settings, and supporting mothers at work and in communities. Learn more about these efforts to increase breastfeeding across the nation.


Why Does Breastfeeding Lower Your Risk of Breast Cancer?

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21 comments on “Breastfeeding for Cancer Prevention”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    I breastfed all four of my sons and was diagnosed with Stage 1A breast cancer Dec 10, 2019. The cancer was removed by lumpectomy, radiation completed March 25, 2020 and will be on hormones for 5 years. I was a Cancer Registrar for 11 years, so I knew what to expect and understood more than most people. So thankful I didn’t have to have chemo and it was caught SO early.

    Omg I’m sorry to hear. If you don’t mind me asking, how long did you breastfeed each of your sons? I’m breastfeeding my 4th child now so this hits home.

    Given the many health risks to mother and baby of using artificial baby milk instead of breastfeeding, I am very disappointed that this article normalises bottle feeding. No one talks about the advantages of not smoking, as if smoking were normal behaviour. We talk about risks of smoking. Likewise we should be referring to the risks of artificial baby milk, not the advantages of breastfeeding.
    Sadly many breastfeeding problems are attributable not to mothers’ incompetence or lack of dedication to their children, but to medical practises, including over heated and brightly lit labour wards, delivery tables being too dangerous for babies to crawl up to self attach and then the drastic restriction of access to the breast, particularly at night, advocated by paediatricians. The apgar test should be abandoned for breast fed infants in favour of observing the baby crawling to the breast and self attaching, whilst still retaining the life belt of the uncut umbilical cord. Ramming a baby’s head onto the breast is as damaging as forced intercourse, both mentally and physically and should also be abandoned by the medical profession.

    I agree. Perspective is everything. Breast is normal. Artificial feeding can be very beneficial when needed. (I had chronic low supply and had to supplement). But using formula does actually carry risk. This fact is largely hidden. Introduction of infant formula increases a child’s risk for various diseases, such as type 1 diabetes mellitus and obesity.
    Again, I am not anti-formula. My daughter would not have survived without it. But just like I wouldn’t give my child pediasure instead of normal food unless medically necessary, formula should be used when needed, not as a default.

    I’m a public health professional here in the great state of SC. My wife had our first little one about 10 days ago and because it took a minute for her milk to come in she has been exclusively breastfed for about a week now. I am in awe of my wife who is way cooler than Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman combined. She has been so resilient through blood sweat and tears (and cabbage leaves) she has persevered. We know it is so good for mom and baby, but I never could have imagined the positive effect on our marriage and my fatherhood. Seeing my wife and baby working so hard to learn a new thing to both of them is absolutely amazing and truly inspires me to want to be better and work harder for them.

    Your message is heartwarming! I breast fed my 6 children each for one year. I had a wonderful experience with breastfeeding and my husband was supportive. I have, however, seen husbands who were not supportive out of ignorance. Our culture needs to change and information about the benefits of breastfeeding needs to be brought to the forefront! Back in the early 70s my older sister was having trouble with breastfeeding and her doctor told her to give up and that is why he did not recommend breastfeeding!!! Unbelievable!

    I agree. I breastfed all 4 of my children anywhere from 18 months to the day before my youngest turned 4. I agree it’s difficult with a very young infant because they constantly want to nurse, but I came to enjoy that time that only I could spend with my child.

    Breastfeeding is normal and natural, the human norm. Therefore it doesn’t “lower the risk” it Is THE NORM.
    This article should be rewritten to say “Bottle feeding increases the risk of breast cancer in the mother.”

    I had my firstborn daughter in 1981, my son in 1982, and my youngest daughter in 1985. I breastfed all three of them, and I received an extraordinary amount of criticism as a result. I was accused of flashing my breast and behaving inappropriately in public. So I spent a lot of time in the women’s bathroom. I’m a Black woman, and the people who criticized me the most were other Black people! My doctors said that breast milk was the only food my babies would need for the first years of their lives. When I told people that, they didn’t believe me. They even bought jars of babies food because, “That baby needs real food to grow up healthy and strong. So I became a non conformist who wouldn’t listen to them. But the bond I have with my children is still very strong. They are well educated and pursuing their careers!

    Thank you for this sensible reprieve. I feel terrible that breastfeeding mothers were (and in many places still are) shamed so terribly for breastfeeding that much advocacy of breastfeeding has now got such a spiteful and nasty face. The “expertise” on show here is so typical. Randomly Controlled Trials are not done on breastfeeding and formula feeding, and a lot of the early papers that claimed gigantic benefits for breastfeeding were either tempered or invalidated by PROBIT and other more scientifically rigorous trials. I know there is little point in posting this to change minds, but I thought I might try to temper some of the ill-founded ideology for any parent stigmatised by this comments section. A lot of you should be ashamed of your rhetoric.

    It’s important to recognize that articles like this are skewing the language to assume bottle feeding as the biological norm. “Breastfeeding reduces risk…” ought to be phrased “bottle feeding increases risk” , since breastfeeding is actually the biological norm. It also skews the numbers to represent a lesser impact than it really has: if “breastfeeding reduces risk by 50%”, then the reality is that bottle feeding doubles the risk or increases risk by 100% .

    I breastfed my son for 5 years. I received so much criticism for breast feeding my daughter 3 years earlier that I quit after 4 months. So I was determined to breastfeed my son until I was ready to stop. This was in 1987. I am so happy I did. My son and I have a strong relationship and he is a very sensitive and emotionally adjusted man now. I truly feel a lot of it was due to the security that breastfeeding gave him. It was a beautiful experience.

    I breast fed both of my boy and still am breast feeding on 14 month old. I agree that fed is best, bottle or boob doesn’t matter.
    I get why people are up in arms about this article but geez relax it’s just an article and it’s not directed at anyone specific.
    It’s a point of view plus research with positive outcomes!!!

    I’m 55 years old and now have 2 grandchildren. I breastfed my 3 children until they were about 6 months old, I was so determined to exclusively breast feed & managed to do so, but I can honestly say this was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. As the milk is so easily digested, sometimes they needing feeding every 45 minutes throughout the night during growth spurts, I was absolutely exhausted, but I’m so glad I persevered. With my first son, it was so painful until we learnt how to latch on properly. It was much easier 2nd time around with my daughter. Don’t forget it takes about 2 to 3 days for your milk to come in after you’ve given birth. My babies were really hungry and didn’t seem satisfied with the colostrum, I could see why so many give up and turn to the milk on tap of formula. It’s not easy. But so worth it. Every woman that breast feeds should be encouraged.

    The main reason women quit breast feeding right away is because of nursing blisters and nipple cracking. No one tells women – there are plastic nursing shields that fit over your nipple area to allow nursing to continue without any pain. And to liberally apply sheep lanolin on nipples after every feeding combined with using milk absorbing pads to wick away any moisture. (clean back off before nursing) Both were game changers for me. Sadly my son quit on his own at 7 months -preferring solid food. Lesson in that is to breast feed longer – delay starting solid foods. I started rice cereal at 4 months.

    On 2000 I gave birth to a 1 pound 10 ounces, 24 week gestation baby boy. I was encourage to pump from day one. It was frozen and later given to him via a tube that went down his esophagus. Once I was able to kangaroo he would slowly make his way to my breast. He knew my smell. His doctor told me to let him. I’d squeeze my nipple and he would lick the milk just like a kitty cat. A specialist gave me a nipple guard / shield that was small enough for his tiny mouth and I began feeding him that way while he was still in NICU. It was exhausting to him but it was good for the two of us. They would finish feeding him with a tube down his esophagus.
    There was no way I was going to depend 100% on formula when I knew my milk was the best food for him. He got 50/50 between formula and my milk. The formula was prescribed. Not your regular can at target.
    Now. Here CDC tells us how breastfeeding is good for Type 2 diabetes, cancer and some other stuff. I think CDC should do a study of premies that were breastfeed while in NICU and afterwards. You see, many premies have gastrointestinal problems because of their very immature stomach. But I have a theory. When in vitro we know baby sucks their thumb. It is my theory that this encourages the acids, muscles, etc in all the gastrointestinal track. But when born early, they are discouraged from burning any very needed calories. I believe that because my son was allowed to breastfeed as soon as I was able to kangaroo him, that this sucking help him mature his gastrointestinal track. He had no reflux or food allergies. Today he’s 5 feet nine inches and just earned a masters degree. And just began his first job after university. He is our miracle.
    So. If you can breastfeed. Please, do. If baby can’t latch, Pump and give your milk via a bottle. If you’re not producing a lot. Talk with your doctor. There are meds that may help. And if you still can’t produce a lot… give to baby what you do produce and supplement with formula.

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Page last reviewed: Tuesday, June 23, 2020
Page last updated: Tuesday, June 23, 2020