We think of breast-feeding one of the most selfless things you can do for your child; you're literally nourishing him or her with nutrients from your body. But breast-feeding may have been giving back to you this entire time.
One study, published late last month in Annals of Oncology, found that breast-feeding significantly reduced the risk of a very aggressive type of breast cancer. And the other, published Monday in Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that breast-feeding may reset women's metabolism post-pregnancy, helping those who had gestational diabetes avoid becoming lifelong diabetics.
“The breast gland is immature and unable to do its job — which is to make milk — until it goes through the bat mitzvah of a full-term pregnancy,” explained Dr. Marisa Weiss, the paper’s senior author, to the Times. “Breast-feeding forces the breasts to finally grow up and get a job, and make milk, and show up for work every day and every night, and stop fooling around.”
The latest report on the effects of breast-feeding on breast cancer analyzed dozens of studies including nearly 40,000 cancer cases worldwide. The study found that breast-feeding reduced the risk of hormone receptor negative tumors, a vicious type of breast cancer more common in African-Americans and younger women, by up to 20%.
But the physiological benefits of breast-feeding, apparently, extend beyond the breast. Researchers identified 1,010 women from diverse backgrounds who had developed gestational diabetes during their pregnancies and monitored them closely for two years after the birth. Of the 959 mothers who were studied, 113 (nearly 12%) had eventually developed Type 2 diabetes. But those who breast-fed cut their risk by half, and the longer they breast-fed, and the more heavily they relied on milk rather than formula, the more their risk lowered.
So, it's fitting that some scientists are starting to call breast-feeding the “fourth trimester” of pregnancy — as it completes the reproductive cycle, giving back what the other trimesters may have taken away, like metabolic health. It may just be rewarding you for all your hard work.
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