Not Breastfeeding Increases Ovarian Cancer Risk

Not Breastfeeding Increases Ovarian Cancer Risk

“Are you ‘still’ breastfeeding?” is a common question pretty much all breastfeeding mothers are asked at some time, whether their baby is 4 or 12 months old.

You see, many people have opinions about when breastfeeding should cease. Some think it should be when babies grow teeth, or when they can walk.

Others might think exclusively breastfeeding until six months is pointless because they weren’t and are ‘perfectly fine’.

Unfortunately, many people only see things through their own ideological lenses and fail to see things from another’s point of view.

Not Breastfeeding Increases Ovarian Cancer Risk

Also, what some people seem to ignore is leading health organisations from around the world recommend babies are exclusively breastfed for around the first six months. Afterwards, breastfeeding can continue alongside complementary foods for at least one year or as long as the mother and child desire.

These recommendations are based on the best scientific evidence and support breastfeeding for optimal health for both baby and mother.

The less time a mother breastfeeds, the higher her risk of various poor health outcomes.

For example, not breastfeeding may increase a mother’s risk of ovarian cancer. Here are three facts about ovarian cancer and breastfeeding:

#1: Not Breastfeeding Increases Ovarian Cancer Risk

Science isn’t entirely sure what causes ovarian cancer but one theory is called ‘incessant ovulation’. This means women who continually ovulate throughout their lives without a break are at higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Ovulation is interrupted by birth control hormones, pregnancy and breastfeeding (lactational amenorrhea).

Systematic reviews are the highest quality scientific evidence we have available. The most recent research of this type has shown the longer a woman breastfeeds for, the lower the risk of her developing ovarian cancer.

Or, to put it another way, not breastfeeding increases a mother’s risk of ovarian cancer by 43%.

#2: The Total Duration Of Breastfeeding Is Important

Time and time again, research looking at breastfeeding duration and health outcomes has found the lower duration breastfeeding, the higher the risk of poor health outcomes.

For example, one study about breastfeeding and ovarian cancer found women who breastfeed for longer than 13 months were 63% less likely to develop ovarian cancer, compared to women who breastfed for less than seven months.

Additionally, mothers with three children, who breastfed for over 31 months, were almost 91% less likely to suffer from ovarian cancer than women who breastfed for under 10 months.

It’s important to note the comparisons in this study were between mothers who breastfed for specified durations, not between women who did and didn’t breastfeed. It would be expected the results would be more significant if this were the case.

#3: There Are Many Risk Factors

There are several risk factors known to increase the risk of ovarian cancer, such as age, family history and ethnicity. These are risk factors women have no control over.

However, while breastfeeding isn’t magical and can’t completely eliminate the risk of ovarian cancer, at least it is one modifiable risk factor which many women can do.

And since breastfeeding is the normal way to feed babies, it should be the benchmark to which other forms of infant feeding are compared.

So, perhaps before asking a mother “Are you still breastfeeding?” consider that your ‘crazy’ friend or family member may actually be doing both herself and her child something that’s important for their health.

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Renee Kam is a mother of two daughters, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a physiotherapist, author of 'The Newborn Baby Manual' and an Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor. In her spare time, Renee enjoys spending time with family and friends, horse riding, running and reading.

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