Saturday, November 21, 2009

Breast-eria.. Worried about BC? Try nursing.

The debate over new guidelines for mammograms is growing. I don't think the folks who issued those findings were in touch with what an emotional issue this is. Even for someone who has not had breast cancer, or ever had a family member with cancer, it's easy to get the drift. Just walk through retail stores, read women's magazines, watch TV. Breast cancer and its omnipresent pink ribbons are far and away the most popular cause among illnesses. I think that's fine, unless, as some contend, it takes resources away from other, less well-advertised causes that need funding and research more.

What bothers me is that we only ever talk and argue and fundraise and run in 10K races for the disease, and rarely do we consider the causes. So few people know that breastfeeding prevents some breast cancers, and that the longer one breastfeeds, the more protected one is. There are numerous studies showing that even women who give birth after age 25 ( early births also prevent some cancers) get greatly reduced risk if they breastfeed long enough. This appears to be due to the length of time that estrogen is suppressed, although more needs to be learned.

Granted, there are millions of women who did not breastfeed, for any number of reasons, and those women can not change that! But for young women who have not yet given birth, or are still in childbearing years, it would be so fabulous if there were as huge a campaign to get them to breastfeed as there is to raise money through pink ribbon campaigns. I'm not against self-exams or even mammograms, and I know that women who breastfeed can still get cancer! I just wish the emphasis on ways to lower risk were as great as the emphasis on detection and treatment.

The coolest thing of all is that breastfeeding is so beneficial to babies, and to mothers in so many other ways (including helping to prevent heart disease, osteoporosis, and ovarian cancer!) that it's a win-win situation. In fact, unless the mother is on drugs that pass through the breastmilk, there is almost no reason not  to breastfeed. You won't hear this over and over on the evening news. Why? Because you can't make money from breastfeeding, but you can from formula, paraphernalia, and all the other stuff parents buy for their babies when they could just hold them, keep them close, feed them as nature intended, and make life healthier for all concerned.

Here are a few links to information on these topics: