From preventing allergies to lowering the risk of infections, numerous studies have shown that the benefits of breastfeeding extend well beyond basic nutrition. Now, new research suggests a mother’s milk can also lower the risk of childhood leukemia.
Researchers at the University of Haifa in Israel looked at 18 major studies examining cancer rates in breastfed children from various countries throughout the world, and what they found was that those children who were breast-fed for 6 months or had a 19 percent lower risk of developing childhood leukemia than those who were breastfed for less than 6 months, and those who were not breast-fed at all.
When we look at the rates of pediatric infections, common colds, ear infections, asthma and allergies, we see a significant difference between children who are breast-fed and those who aren’t. And this new evidence gives weight to the links that we know exists between the immune system, genetics and cancer.
Study authors found that there are several biologic components to breast milk that could explain the lower cancer rates observed in breast-fed babies. Breast milk contains lactoferrin, an antibody that can destroy harmful microbes and reduce the body’s inflammatory response to foreign substances. It also contains cancer-killing antibodies and stem cells similar to those found in embryos.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breast-feeding for the first 6 months of life, although any amount you can do for your child is beneficial. Now, if you are unable to breast-feed for any reason, you should not feel guilty. But if you can, you should.
More research needs to be done, but, in the meantime, I hope society continues to make strides toward supporting this natural process and making it easier and more accessible for new moms.