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Breast Feeding Shows Benefits for Mothers

Two new studies show more evidence of the importance of breast-feeding for both infants and the mother. According to a report from the Associated Press on January 30, 2001, women who breast-fed their babies for two years or longer reduced their risk of breast cancer by 50%. The study by Yale University following rural women in China, found that the benefits to the mother are long lasting and can reduce cancer risk before and after menopause.

In the US less than 1/3 of women continue breast-feeding for six months after the birth of their infant. Only small portions of women in the US breast-feed their babies until 2 years old. However, in China, as in other developing areas, breast-feeding for longer periods of time is normal.

One of the two possible reasons given by the researchers was that breast-feeding reduces exposure to estrogen and the regular female hormone cycles. The other possible reason given by the researchers is that fat-soluble cancer causing agents and other pollutants are not stored in the tissues of women's breasts as easily when they are breast-feeding.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast-feeding for babies at least up to the first year of life. UNICEF and the World Health Organization go even farther and recommend that babies be breast-fed with the addition of other foods until at least the age of two.

Breast Feeding Shows Additional Benefits for Mother and Baby

An article from the May 14, 2001 issue of WebMD showed unexpected additional benefits of breast-feeding to both mother and child.  The unique benefits had nothing to do with the known nutritional benefits already reported for breastfeeding. The basis for these claims were two separate studies done on breastfeeding.  One study showed that breastfed babies were more tolerant of pain.  The second study showed that the bones of teenage mothers who breastfed had a higher bone mineral density than teen moms who hadn't breastfed. 

The first of the two studies was conducted at Montreal Children's Hospital in Quebec, where researchers recruited 74 breastfeeding mothers of 2-month-olds.  In this study the babies were observed to see if breastfeeding had any effect on the child's ability to handle pain.  The results of this study showed that no matter what type of observation analysis was used, there was a reported 50% reduction in pain response in the children that were breastfed. The theory for explaining these results is that the sucking, the transmission of the milk, and being in contact with the mother, help to activate systems in the baby's body responsible for reducing pain.

The second study demonstrates a way teen mothers may benefit from breastfeeding.  Prior to this study it was commonly believed that women during breastfeeding lose bone mineral density and teen moms tend to lose more. Adult mothers typically regain the bone loss after weaning their babies from breastfeeding.  However, there was a concern about whether the bones of  teenage mothers -- who are still growing and developing -- could recover from the nutritional rigors of breastfeeding.  The results were surprising to researchers.  What the researchers found was that the bones of teenage mothers who breastfed actually had higher bone mineral density than teen moms who hadn't breastfed even after they took into account factors such as weight, race, diet, and exercise.