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Breastfeeding Protects Against Breast Cancer

Media release 24 July, 2002

Breastfeeding Protects Against Breast Cancer –
Kiwi Attitudes Must Change

The results of a study reported in The Lancet this week found a direct link between breastfeeding and protection against breast cancer.

The timing of these results coincides with the build up to World Breastfeeding Week 1 – 7 August, which focuses this year on the benefits of breastfeeding on women’s reproductive health.

Researchers compared data from 47 studies and 30 countries involving more than 140,000 women and found the incidence of breast cancer lower among women in developing countries because they tend to have more children and breastfeed longer than women in developed countries.

“It’s a sad reflection on our society that women in developed countries will breastfeed on average for only eight months in their lifetime compared to women in the developing world who breastfeed for an average of thirteen years (and bear more children),” says Sian Burgess, prominent breastfeeding advocate for Women’s Health Action.

Ms Burgess is thrilled with results of the study, which proves conclusively breastfeeding’s protective effect against breast cancer, something that Sian and her colleagues have been promoting for years.

However, she cautions against the assumption of the study’s researchers that long-term breastfeeding in the developed world is unrealistic.

Sian believes that it’s vital that we act on this important new research and address the social deterrents to extending the duration of breastfeeding.

“It’s essential that we work towards the restoration of a breastfeeding culture where initiatives to encourage breastfeeding are no longer needed and breastfeeding advocates are a thing of the past.”

The study concluded that if mothers in the developed world breastfeed each child just six months longer than they do now, this could prevent 25,000 breast cancers worldwide each year. Extending breastfeeding by an additional twelve months could prevent 50,000 breast cancers.

The reality in New Zealand is that affirmative action is required to change social attitudes towards breastfeeding. Initiatives Sian advocates include:

- Extending Paid Parental Leave to at least six months to enable exclusive breastfeeding for that time.

- Encouraging family friendly workplace practices, such as paid breastfeeding breaks, to enable women to continue breastfeeding when they return to work.

- Enabling positive social attitudes towards women who breastfeed in public.

- Having a community where mothers are supported and encouraged to continue breastfeeding their infants beyond the first few weeks.

Sian says positive changes such as these to encourage long-term breastfeeding and therefore reduce breast cancers would prove more useful than manufacturing a pill to replicate the protective effect as suggested as one solution by the study’s authors.


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