Experts say women who breastfeed for a year over the course of their lifetime are less likely to develop breast cancer.
An analysis by Dr. Rachel Thompson for World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), has found that breastfeeding for a year reduced a woman's breast cancer risk by almost 5%.
Breastfeeding has been linked to lower obesity levels in children and is known to offer newborns protection against a plethora of infections, including respiratory disease, but a recent survey by the WCRF has found that few women realise that breastfeeding reduces the risk of developing breast cancer.
This major new study lends support to the theory that breastfeeding benefits both mothers and babies.
The researchers found that breastfeeding lowered the levels of some cancer-related hormones in the mother's body, thereby reducing the risk of the disease.
At the end of the breastfeeding process the body rids itself of any cells in the breast that may have DNA damage and this reduces the risk of breast cancer developing in the future.
Dr. Thompson says getting across the message that breastfeeding is something positive that women can do to reduce their risk of breast cancer is important, as the evidence is convincing.
Dr. Thompson recommends that women should breastfeed exclusively for six months and then continue with complementary feeding after that, she says reducing the breast cancer risk by about 5% might not sound like a big difference but the longer you breastfeed for, the more you will reduce your risk.
She says if a woman breastfeeds two or more children for at least six months each over her lifetime, it is clear she can make a significant impact on their cancer risk, not to mention all the other benefits of breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding's other health benefits for mothers are thought to include lowering the risk of ovarian cancer and cutting the risk of heart attacks by almost a quarter.
Breast milk also boosts the baby's health, protecting them from stomach bugs, asthma, chest infections and allergies.