For mothers: breastfeed your baby, if you can

Breastfeed your baby if you can graphicBreastfeeding is a personal choice but there are many benefits for you and your baby if you choose to breastfeed.

As well as being good for your baby, breastfeeding may also protect against breast cancer by:

  • Lowering the levels of some cancer-related hormones in your body.
  • Getting rid of any cells in your breasts that may have DNA damage.

What are the benefits for your baby?

Breast milk is the best start for your baby as it contains all the nutrients your baby needs for healthy growth and development. It helps protect your baby from infection and disease as well. Breastfeeding can also help you and your baby to bond.

Breastfed babies are also less likely to become overweight or obese children compared to babies who were not breastfed. Being overweight or obese in childhood tends to lead to being overweight or obese in adult life.

As this is a cause of cancer, helping your baby to be a healthy weight when they grow up means you can help reduce their risk of developing cancer in the future.

Breastfeeding for cancer prevention

If you are able to, then it’s best to only give your baby breast milk for the first 6 months of life. After that, your baby will benefit if you continue to breastfeed to two years or beyond, alongside introducing other foods and water.

Even if you can’t do this, any breastfeeding is beneficial for you and your baby, and the longer you breastfeed for, the longer the protection and benefits last.

Expert view from Prof Clare Collins

Professor Clare Collins “Breastfeeding lowers your risk of developing breast cancer. This is because it lowers lifetime exposure to the hormone oestrogen. When a woman breastfeeds, normal hormonal changes can delay their menstrual periods, which means oestrogen levels are lower. Oestrogen can play a role in promoting growth of breast cancer cells.

Also, breastfeeding means there is higher turnover of breast tissue, so potentially tissue that contains damaged cells can be shed. Both factors together contribute to lowering risk of developing breast cancer.

It also lowers a woman’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, including for women who have previously had gestational diabetes.

For babies, breastfeeding supports their growth and development, and protects against infections and the risk of developing allergies, childhood asthma and type 1 diabetes.”

Help with breastfeeding

If you are thinking about breastfeeding and need more help and advice, talk to your GP or health visitor. Or visit NHS help with breastfeeding.