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Save yourself, save our health care system

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Last year I ran with my daughter in the Run for the Cure. Each year I donate funds to breast cancer research.  But this year I also wanted to take the time to talk about the role that breastfeeding plays in fighting the battle against breast cancer.

The Canadian Cancer Society reports that in 2008, an estimated 22,400 women in Canada will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 5,300 will die of it (source: Breast Cancer Stats). It has been well documented through research that breastfeeding lowers a woman's chance of contracting breast cancer (for other ways of lowering your risk see It's Your Health - Breast Cancer). In fact, studies have shown that if women breastfed for at least 16 months over their lifetime, the incidence of breast cancer might drop from 6% of women to 3% of women (source: CBC article "Breastfeeding protects against breast cancer, study confirms").

Imagine what that could mean?

  • It could mean that more than 10,000 Canadian families each year could be spared the grief and anxiety that a breast cancer diagnosis brings

  • It could mean that more than 10,000 Canadian women each year could be spared the physical and mental trauma of dealing with cancer and going through harsh treatments

  • It could mean that more than 2,500 families each year would not lose their mother, wife, sister, daughter

  • It could save our health care system more than $225 million dollars each year (in 2000, Canada spent $454 million on breast cancer treatment) that could be reinvested in trying to find a cure to breast cancer, in decreasing wait times for treatment, in introducing newer and more effective treatments, or invested in other areas of our health care system that are in such dire straits (and those are just the savings resulting from less breast cancer treatments being required and doesn't include the other health care costs that are saved by having healthier children as a result of them breastfeeding).

Breastfeeding of course isn't a guarantee that you won't contract breast cancer and not breastfeeding isn't a guarantee that you will. But if more women chose to breastfeed and if more of them breastfed for longer periods of time, research shows that we would see positive results. Not everyone can breastfeed, but almost all women can. Most that try and fail, do so as a result of bad advice, incorrect myths, and insufficient support.

What can you do to help? If you have a baby, breastfeed. If you know someone with a baby, support their choice to breastfeed and don't pressure them to wean or tell them that "just one bottle" won't hurt, because it can be a slippery slope. If you know someone that is struggling to breastfeed, point them to resources that can help like a local La Leche League meeting, the research-based kellymom Web site, or an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.

As for me, in addition to the dollars that I've donated and raised for the cause, I've donated 48 months of breastfeeding so far. How many have you donated?
« Cures for Nature Deficit Disorder? Help for our Planet? | Main | SAH or WOH? How can we stop restricting mothers' choices? »

Reader Comments (19)

18 months and counting! (Including tomorrow, at the Breastfeeding Challenge!)

October 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCynthia

16 months and still going strong!

October 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTiffany

23.5 months and hopefully many, many more to come :)

October 11, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterhalfpintpixie

13.5 months and counting!

October 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterEarthbaby

9 months and counting :)

October 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

[...] your baby.  In fact, in addition to donating money to the cause, we can consider ourselves as donating months of breastfeeding to the [...]

October 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLatch Babies » Blog Arch

I have breastfed one child for 3 years 8 months and
another for 17 months and counting (and some tandem time too!) SO.....that is 5 years 1 month total!!!

October 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Fabulous post!

So far... I have in 81 months of breastfeeding. :)

October 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMother Nurtured

30 months and going strong!

October 18, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterchelsea

21.5 months with no signs of stopping here!

October 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLizette

Three babies ~ 117 months and counting! Oh my :) Great post, thanks for directing me here.

~ birthgoddess on twitter!

November 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJacquie

I've never calculated this before... Looks like it was about 70 months - 1 child for 3 years, 2nd child for 3 years, 10 months, and tandem nursed them for about 10 months. Stopped bf-ing 3 years ago (sniff-sniff). :)

November 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDarlene

[...] In Canada, almost 86% of women that do initiate breastfeeding end up breastfeeding beyond 2 weeks.  In fact, almost 50% of them make it to 6 months and 9% end up going on for more than a year (source Statistics Canada 2003 data).  Based on the data in my poll, if everyone that was having trouble breastfeeding gave up at 2 weeks, 46% would continue breastfeeding past 2 weeks, 27% would be breastfeeding at 6 months, and 5% would be breastfeeding at a year. What would the consequences of this be? Essentially, the well documented health benefits of breastfeeding for moms and babies would be cut almost in half. We would see more babies and children getting sick. We would see more mothers dying of breast cancer (I did the math on this in Save Yourself, Save our Health Care System). [...]

45 month so far, currently still nursing 2 kids

March 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

[...] extended nursing could save upwards of $4 billion a year. (I posted about this my post called Save Yourself, Save our Healthcare System, where I documented the estimated costs in breast cancer treatments in Canada resulting from [...]

[...] percent for 12 or more months of breastfeeding (another study). Another study that I reported on in Save Yourself, Save Our Health Care System, found that if women in Canada breastfed for at least 16 months over their lifetime, we could cut [...]

49 months and not done yet. And through some incredible hurdles and a huge amount of pain. But, with hindsight, so so so very worth it! :)

October 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStrawberry

I know this post is an old one, but I looked it out as, lately, I've been reading more of the literature on the matter. What I noticed straight away is that the Reuters article you linked to appear to have got their risk reduction estimate completely wrong.

The paper they reference is on-line at http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2802%2909454-0/fulltext, and, as you can see, the reduction the study found in risk actually equated to 4.3% of initial risk for every twelve months of breastfeeding. So, if that relationship is causative, 16 months of breastfeeding would reduce a woman's risk by around one in twenty – and, while that's all to the good, it is not going to come remotely close to the kind of drop in the national statistics that this article was claiming. I'm still baffled as to how they've made such a crashing error, but made it they seem to have done.

By the way, for those looking to reduce their risk of breast cancer, I found another and more promising way – regular exercise, in addition to its many other health benefits, appears to cut the risk by about 25 – 30% (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18487249). So, best way to reduce breast cancer risk and financial toll on the health care system may well be to make time for regular exercise!

April 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDr Sarah

[...] extended nursing could save upwards of $4 billion a year. (I posted about this my post called Save Yourself, Save our Healthcare System, where I documented the estimated costs in breast cancer treatments in Canada resulting from [...]

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