I never met my grandmother.
Before she ever reached her 50th birthday, she had breast cancer that had spread into her bones. So in 1969, my grandmother passed away leaving behind five kids that would have countless kids and grandkids of their own.
And from a very early age, I mourned the fact that I never got to meet her and even worried about my own chances of getting breast cancer. In the last three years I have worked on finding ways to encourage breatfeeding moms and have researched the impact of breastfeeding on breast cancer.
While I know that breast cancer can strike anyone in any family even if they “do everything right,” it has been a passion of mine in the last 10 years to reduce my own chances and help others reduce theirs.
A natural extension of this was advocating breastfeeding support communities for women to find help and support without judgment or embarrassment. As women, we must encourage each other to be our best and do our best, lifting each other up and helping through the very essences of what it means to be a woman — childbirth and breastfeeding. We must encourage each other’s efforts to do what’s best for our babies and our bodies in the long term because just like childbirth is natural but not easy, breastfeeding is the same.
In today’s society where science is touted as having all of the answers and it’s just as easy to buy the things we need instead of trying to make them or work hard at a goal, women in the developed world have a shockingly low rate of breastfeeding. Whereas the worldwide average is that a child is breastfed until age 5, in the United States it is a staggering 3 months with less than half of moms attempting to breastfeed still doing so at 6 months.
While I always believe that it’s important to champion parental decisions to find what’s right for each family, I fully believe that failure to succeed in breastfeeding to at least a year is largely due to societal pressures, lack of breastfeeding knowledge, and most of all, little support (combined with little understanding) from other women. This is why we need to encourage each other as women on the breastfeeding journey. We must build each other up and not give up, because it’s worth it for ourselves and our children in the end. Why? Because I want to meet my grandchildren and not just be a story.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO ENCOURAGE BREASTFEEDING MOTHERS & WHAT GOALS WE SHOULD SET
Women who never breastfeed are 50% more likely to get breast cancer.
It’s part of a woman’s body. She was made to reproduce, give birth, and feed her child. Interrupting that cycle can interrupt the hormone process. Even just giving birth reduces breast cancer chances by 7% per baby, but continuing the process of feeding your baby reduces that likelihood even more. So when a woman chooses not to breastfeed or chooses to quit at 3 ormonths before a baby should be solely relying on “real food” for nourishment, it takes hormones to stop that process because it has to block the natural release of hormones that it takes to produce milk
Each year of Breastfeeding, a woman’s chance of breast cancer is estimated to go down 4.3% for each year of breastfeeding.
We must support each other to set lofty goals and then further support each other as women to far exceed those goals. So when a woman says she wants to exclusively breastfeed for six months, we should be cheering her on. That’s an over 2% reduction in her chances of getting breast cancer. And when she has a hard day or feels like her milk supply is going down at 4 months, we should be offering her advice to eat healthy fats and drink lots of water instead of giving her baby formula. Because in the end, once you introduce formula, the woman’s body starts not producing milk at those times. Worse, the hormones at work to make milk start missing cues in general to produce the milk baby needs.
Breastfeeding reduces the risk of cancer in both mom and baby.
Especially if mom and baby girl, breastfeeding reduces the risk of even the baby girl getting breast cancer. This might simply be from the fact that a mother’s milk caters to the needs of her baby, or it also might be that formulas (especially soy) play a role in introducing ingredients like phyto-estrogen.
Children who are breastfed are generally equipped with a better immune system.
Breastfeeding moms are sending over antibodies to their babies to help build those little immune systems. And the longer children are getting those antibodies, the better. The building blocks of the immune system start taking shape around 2 years old which is just one of the many reasons the World Health Organization has recommended moms breastfeed their kids until that point.
Food before one is just for fun.
Encourage the moms you know to hold off on introducing food to their babies as long as possible. This protects the baby’s gut, but also protects mom’s milk supply. There are so many mothers that struggle with supply when their babies start eating food. But food before one is just for fun. This means breast milk should be their primary source of food both before and after real food. Breastfeeding for at least 6 months has also even shown to delay breast cancer by up to ten years.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO ENCOURAGE OTHER WOMEN WHO ARE BREASTFEEDING OR HAVE BREAST CANCER
If you have breastfed, be a line of support
Remember how difficult it was and how you didn’t think you could do it, but you had already said you would not give yourself the option to give up? Remember that lonely feeling of trying to be a breastfeeding women and thinking it should be natural and easy, but it was painful and difficult?
Reach out to the pregnant moms that you know and even barely know. Give them your number and genuinely offer your support and to be available when they need you. Because I know I even called someone I did not even know around midnight when my first was so engorged I could hardly function. And you should know, I just don’t call anyone ever.
Take the family a healthy meal.
Whether it’s a new breastfeeding mom or someone with cancer, a great healthy meal with healthy fats like avocados, walnuts, etc. is not only appreciated, but will do their body well! Little snack bags of dried fruit, nuts, and seeds are thoughtful snack ideas or even a chest of frozen smoothies with ground flax in them. All healthy and all go a long way to helping your fellow woman!
Be a source of encouragement to be proactive in women’s health.
I have heard the story that my grandmother probably knew something was wrong, but waited to go into the doctor. And by the time she got in, the mass was the size of a walnut where even in today’s standards, the size of a pea is critical. There was nothing anyone could do for her as it spread to her bones. She was just one of the more than 250,000 people diagnosed with breast cancer each year.
So when your best friend mentions she is even remotely concerned about a lump or something else obscure, encourage her to get checked out. And encourage all the women in your family and life to screen themselves regularly and even schedule yearly appointments for thermal imaging (much safer than the traditional mammogram).
Reach out to those who have breast cancer.
There is a ray of hope for every woman who has been impacted by breast cancer. It’s not an easy road to be on, but to be able to encourage someone through their most difficult time. Bring them meals, love on them, and introduce them to The Silver Lining. It not only offers support, but it is also guide to help ask the right questions and know how to deal with every situation a woman with breast cancer might encounter.
It is a very encouraging read, depicting what it’s like at diagnosis, through treatment, and even after cancer. It gives hope and that’s what we all need as women. I got teary eyed reading the part about explaining to a child that their mom has cancer. It is truly an empowering read for anyone in the throes of breast cancer.
More articles on Breastfeeding
Kara is an author, wife, and mother of 3 children living in Boston, MA. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and even helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!