Having a first baby before age 25 lowers your risk for breast cancer, as many studies have shown. But if you wait until you're 25 or older to start your family, you may be able to offset the increased risk by nursing your baby.
When researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles examined data on almost 2,500 women, they confirmed what many studies have found: putting off a first full-term pregnancy until after age 25 raises your breast-cancer risk. But they also found breastfeeding negated that risk. The findings are important because the average age of a first birth among women in the U.S. has increased to 25.
In both younger and older moms, breastfeeding protected against the more common kind of breast cancer that grows in response to estrogen and progesterone as well as against tumors that do not respond to these hormones, says researcher Giske Ursin, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of preventive medicine at USC's Keck School of Medicine.
To confer the protection, Ursin and fellow researchers recommend breastfeeding for at least six months; longer is better.
"Breast-cancer risk is not something a lot of new mothers think about, but it should be an additional reason for breastfeeding," Ursin adds. "We know breastfeeding offers so many benefits for the child. But this study tells us it may also benefit the mother."