By now it's no surprise women who breastfeed have lower risks of breast cancer but did you know...
For every 12 months a woman breastfed, her risk of breast cancer dropped 4.3 percent, Stuebe and Schwarz noted in a 2010 Journal of Perinatology paper. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.)For every twelve months? Do it 5 years and you're cutting the risk by more than 20%. Put your life on hold for 10 to 15 years of breastfeeding, through several children and any other personal or career aspirations and you've decreased the risk by more than 50%.
Worried about ovarian cancer?
When compared with women who had breastfed for at least 18 months, mothers who never breastfed had a 1.5-fold increased risk of developing ovarian cancer, according to one analysis. Another study, published November 2009 in Cancer Causes & Control, found that the protective effect of lactating on ovarian cancer was strongest if women had breastfed their last child.Eighteen months? Women who breastfed for 18 months, a select and interesting group. Comparing them to women who never breastfed is a stretch, desperate really. A sure sign of researchers bent on finding meaningless but statistically signficant results. It suggests no differences between doing it for a couple months or even a year.
There's something eerily amusing about a cancer prevention based on keeping women lactating. Why not plug us women up to breastpumps for our child-bearing years. Better yet let's start bearing children in our teens and twenties thus reducing the risks even further. It's not as ridiculous as it sounds. It's the logical extension of our current breastfeeding recommendations all in the name of public health.
Fortunately there is talk here of the limitations of much of this research. The gorilla in the room, the difference between women who lactate and those who don't. Not to mention the years even decades of confounding factors between the lactating and the health outcomes. But any reasonable discussion on how to really get around these issues comes with more subtle biases.
The best way to study the effects of breast and formula feeding on mothers and children would be to design a long-term, randomized controlled trial, which is the research gold standard in many medical fields. But given the accumulated literature on the benefits of breastfeeding, such a trial would be "ethically problematic," depriving half of the mother-baby dyads, Stuebe and her colleague noted in their 2009 paper.Depriving half the participants of breastfeeding. Imperiling their health and well-being for decades to come. Me, I'd be more unhappy about being told I had to breastfeed for 6 months, a year? Forget it.
Okay, so there's also mention of the particular mechanisms responsible for the health benefits, for instance, changes within the breasts and fat storage. Thought-provoking but still highly speculative.
I've saved the most remarkable news for last. Lest you thought pregnancy ended with labor and delivery, think again.
"The normal physiology is breastfeeding after pregnancy," says Alison Stuebe, an assistant professor in the Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, who describes breastfeeding as the fourth trimester of pregnancy (OMG!!!). When women cannot or choose not to breastfeed, "there are myriad consequences, and we're just figuring them out," she says.A fourth trimester. Explains my continued use of the maternity wardrobe and desire to eat everything in sight. If I'd known I was still in the motherly way. For now let's just ignore the whiffs of "biology-is-destiny" and contempt of choice. It's too similar to other highly charged issues. What I really want to know is more about this Dr. Alison Stuebe. How many years did she breastfeed? Or did she suffer "the consequences?" Chapel Hill, one of my favorite spots, once and perhaps still one of the most-Ph.D.'ed town per capita, must be a hot bed of breastfeeding.
So right here and now I'd like to start an intiative, call it Truth In Breastfeeding whereby every journalist, pediatrician and researcher who comments or presents data, so much as utters the words "breastfeed" and "benefits" in the same sentence must disclose their own breastfeeding behavior. Including you men too, please do tell how long you had the baby suckling at your breasts, starting here and now...
Hi, I'm Polly Palumbo and I breastfed all 3 of my children between 3 and 4 months, supplementing with a bottle of formula during which time I did not work full-time and had the help of family members, friends, babysitters, and a double-breast pump that I used on ocassion in deserted bathrooms and parking garages.
Dr. Stuebe? Calling Dr. Kramer!! Anyone??