One of the many benefits of breastfeeding is that it can lower a mother’s risk of some cancers.

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.

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.

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.

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.

One reason breastfeeding lowers the risk of cancer 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.

According to researchers a human milk complex of alpha-lactalbumin and oleic acid (HAMLET) induces apoptosis only in tumour cells, while normal differentiated cells are resistant to its effects, thus providing safe and effective protection against the development of breast cancer. The longer a mother breastfeeds and the more children she breastfeeds in her life, the higher the protection she gets. Breastfeeding for as few as 3 months is associated with reduced ovarian cancer risk. If the mother breastfeeds for at least 13 months, the risk of getting ovarian cancer is 63% lower.