Breastfeeding's Potential Protective Role Against Cancer in Children

According to recent studies, breastfeeding, already acknowledged as the optimal form of infant nutrition, may have an additional advantage in protecting children from cancer. Dr. Sunita Tandulwadkar, Chief IVF Consultant and Endoscopist at Ruby Hall Clinic explains that breast milk contains various beneficial components, including antibodies, enzymes, and immune cells, which bolster the child's immune system and aid in fighting infections and inflammation.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics in 2022 investigated the link between breastfeeding and the risk of childhood leukemia. Analyzing data from over 18,000 children, the study found that those breastfed for at least six months had a significantly lower risk of developing leukemia compared to those who were not or breastfed for a shorter duration. Similarly, another study published in the International Journal of Cancer in 2021 explored the association between breastfeeding and the risk of neuroblastoma, a common early childhood cancer. The findings revealed that longer breastfeeding durations were linked to a reduced risk of neuroblastoma, with a dose-response relationship.

Breast milk is also rich in bioactive substances such as human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), which have demonstrated anti-cancer properties. Moreover, breastfeeding provides numerous benefits beyond cancer prevention. Breast milk contains essential nutrients tailored to meet the specific needs of infants, promoting healthy growth and development.

Dr. Tandulwadkar emphasizes that breastfeeding not only protects against respiratory and gastrointestinal infections but also reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and decreases the chances of developing allergies, asthma, and obesity later in life. Emerging evidence suggests that breastfeeding plays a role in safeguarding children from cancer.

Studies examining the relationship between breastfeeding and childhood leukemia and neuroblastoma have uncovered significant associations, reinforcing the notion that breastfeeding may have a protective effect against these types of malignancies. Although further exploration is necessary to fully understand the mechanisms behind this relationship, it is evident that breastfeeding is a valuable and natural method to enhance the health and well-being of children. Encouraging and supporting breastfeeding practices can contribute to the long-term health of both our children and society as a whole.

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