Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Breastfeeding reduces cancer & other myths

It was widely reported that a study this week found that breastfeeding reduces breast cancer risk, especially in women with a family history of the disease.

Don't be fooled: this is a myth.

The truth is that women who do not breastfeed have a higher incidence of breast cancer. They also have a higher incidence of ovarian, endometrial and uterine cancer - in addition to passing on that increased risk to their daughters and grand-daughters. You'll rarely see the headline you ought to see about breastfeeding, though we have few compunctions about telling parents that they will harm their children by not putting them in carseats or failing to keep them active.

So here are a few more 'myths':
- Breastfeeding reduces your baby's risk of obesity, Type I and II diabetes and childhood cancers.
- Breastfeeding reduces Mom's risk of Type II diabetes, high blood pressure and cardio-vascular disease.
- Breastfeeding promotes optimal palate development, decreasing sleep apnea and other disorders.

Here's the truth:

- Formula-fed babies are at greater risk for obesity, Type I and II diabetes and childhood cancers. These are serious conditions that can result in disability and premature death.
- Not breastfeeding increases your risk of Type II diabetes and cardio-vascular disease. In addition to the attention required in the management of the disease, the risk of complications means you're less likely to be rocking your grandbabies and chasing them through the park.
- Bottlefeeding causes the palate to be malformed, increasing the risk of debilitating and possibly life-threatening conditions like sleep apnea. These conditions are life-long and are incurable, though treatable.

Maybe it seems like semantics to you... but it's important. Mothers who go to extraordinary lengths to breastfeed their babies often have to also contend with family and health care providers who don't "see the point". While we talk a lot about how breastfeeding is a foundation of good health, there are major systemic barriers to success for the nursing pair - birth practices, sleep practices, maternity leave... these are big, broad issues that get white-washed in the "breast is best" message. Diane Wiessinger has done some great work in talking about breastfed being 'normal fed' and is a worthy read for anyone interested in how language affects our view of breastfeeding and how to address it.

Think about it next time you see a health headline.


mezzaluna said...

i heart Diane Weissenger!

another language point from her: the word "but." different values are attached to the phrase that comes before the "but" and after the "but."

i can't remember her exact wording but something like

"i think red is a good color for you, but you look great that jacket."

"you look great in that jacket, but i think red is a good color for you."

"breast is still best, but if you can't exclusively breastfeed your baby will be fine."

"if you can't exclusively breastfeed your baby will be fine, but breast is still best."

very different intent in those statements.

i see this language around birth a lot, too!

Patience said...

When I started breastfeeding Talitha; I saw almost immediate changes in her sucking ability (stronger jaw muscles) and I think it brought forward a receeding chin as well. (and those were just the visible differences)