In case you didn’t know why the NFL is proudly incorporating pink into everything or you are seeing a “sea of pink” everywhere – October is breast cancer awareness month. This is an important month to all of us who have family or friends that have been affected by this disease. According to the American Cancer Society 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2015 alone, there will be an estimated 231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 40,290 breast cancer deaths.
I am not sure if I should be excited that less than 15% of women who get breast cancer have a family member diagnosed with it, because my maternal grandmother and maternal aunt have both gone through mastectomies, radiation and chemotherapy plus other family members and close friends. I still worry about myself and my girl’s chances. Breast cancer does NOT discriminate, it can happen to anyone at any point, young or old.
I have always been good with monthly self-breast exams and even had my first mammogram early for a baseline and peace of mind. I was diagnosed with a lactating adenoma (a benign tumor mainly caused by the physiological changes that occur during pregnancy and lactation) in my second pregnancy and it had me scared until I learned it was an “OK lump” to have while pregnant and it reappeared with my third pregnancy. I had it biopsied again just to double check.
From an early age, I knew I was going to breastfeed; I wanted what was best for my babies. The more benefits I learned about breastfeeding and how my children would benefit from it made me even more determined. How cool is it that your body creates exactly what your baby needs and changes as the baby changes? Breastfeeding really is liquid gold; it is easier for your baby to digest, it doesn’t need to be prepared ahead of time, it is always available and it is FREE! It has been linked to improved cognitive develop (from fatty acids) and a higher IQ. It can make babies less likely to develop ear infections, diarrhea, asthma, allergies, pneumonia and other bacterial and viral infections. In addition it can help protect against obesity and type 2 diabetes, lowers your baby’s risk of SIDS and even some childhood cancers – WOW!!!!
Not only does it have AMAZING benefits for babies it can also lower YOUR breast cancer risk. Yes, you read that right! There are a ton of articles out there about the numerous benefits of breastfeeding. However, in light of it being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I want to highlight the specific benefits and HOW breastfeeding can lower your risk.
According to the American Institute of Cancer Research and the World Health Organization (WHO), breast cancer risk reduction becomes most significant when baby is exclusively breastfed for at least 6 months (no water, formula or solids) and beyond. Additionally, the longer you nurse, the more protection you receive against pre and post-menopausal breast and ovarian cancers. In one study, published in the 2013 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it was found that women who breastfed multiple children for over 31 months could reduce their ovarian cancer risk by up to 91% compared to women who breastfed for under 10 months. WOW again!
From my understanding there are 3 main reasons how breastfeeding can lower your risk. First, producing breast milk 24/7 keeps you shedding breast tissue and removing potential cells that could be cancerous. Then with all the hormone fluctuations during pregnancy and lactation which help delay your menstrual cycle and inhibit ovulation, your estrogen levels are decreased and thereby reduce your lifetime exposure to estrogen. Yeah for decreased estrogen levels! Lastly, most women tend to eat more nutritious foods and follow healthier lifestyles while pregnant and breastfeeding, which is another positive way to protect your breast health and prevent cancer!
As with every decision you make, I would encourage you to do your own research and decide what is best for you and your family. Breastfeeding is NOT for everyone and I respect that decision and will support you on your journey. With a strong family history, I did what was best for me and my family. I will continue to support, walk, encourage and pray for everyone that is affected by breast cancer and do my job to educate the public on the numerous benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby and the importance of breast health.
Enjoy the Sea of PINK!