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Breastfeeding is good for Mom, too; health benefits extend beyond baby

By Leah J. Simmons
Lifestyles Editor

April 19, 2001

Most people know that breastmilk is a baby's most perfect food. It provides just the right nutrients that a baby needs and is always available.

But many may not realize breastfeeding has benefits for Mom, as well, and its positive properties extend even beyond Mom and Baby.

Crystal Stearns, director of Mercy Memorial Health Center's Healthy Start Breastfeeding and Education Resource Center, said breastfeeding a child makes a mom less susceptible to certain diseases.

"Well, we know breastmilk is good for babies, but it's also good for their moms, too," she said. "Women who breastfeed cut down on their chances of having premenopausal breast cancer."

Women who breastfeed for a lifetime total of two years lower the risk of breast cancer before menopause by 40 percent, and by 66 percent if she nurses a lifetime total of six years. She can lower her risk of breast cancer throughout her lifetime to almost zero by breastfeeding a total of seven years. Breastfeeding also provides protection from cancer of the ovaries, as well as osteoporosis, a thinning of the bones.

"Breastmilk is being used in the medical community in other ways, as well," Stearns said. "At universities where they do organ transplants, they will infuse breastmilk into the gut to help prevent rejection. And there's a possibility of using breastmilk other people with other chronic illnesses. I think it's wonderful."

There is a new cancer study being done at the National Cancer Institute that has shown breastmilk causes cancer cells to die. An article printed June 30, 1999, in Discover Magazine outlined the work done by Catharina Svanborg and her research associates, who began mixing mother's milk and cancer cells together in an attempt to find a way to fight germs. What happened was that the breastmilk caused the cancer cells -- all types of cancer cells tested -- to commit suicide. Although it is not being used as a cure, researchers hope to isolate the property of breastmilk that causes the cancer to die and develop a treatment.

"We're looking at a lot of cancer today and a lot of illnesses and diseases that we don't know anything about," Stearns said. "We know there is a link between juvenile diabetes and formula-fed babies. We're looking at the long-term, lifetime health benefits with these babies. Most people think you just put the baby up there and feed it." Nursing not only helps give babies the food they need, it releases the "mothering hormone," prolactin, which lowers Mom's stress and increases bonding. "The are so many health benefits that breastfeeding provides that people just don't realize," Stearns said. "It's an amazing thing."


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