Mums unaware of breastfeeding benefits

In collaboration with the Press Association

A new survey has highlighted a general lack of awareness that breastfeeding can help to prevent cancer.

The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) found that three quarters of British women are unaware that breastfeeding reduces the mother's risk of breast cancer, despite "convincing" scientific evidence to support the idea.

Men are even less aware of the evidence, with just 13 per cent knowing that breastfeeding reduces the mother's risk of cancer.

The survey, which was carried out by YouGov and questioned 1,998 people, also revealed that few people know that breastfeeding reduces a child's risk of becoming overweight, with only a third of women and 17 per cent of men realising this.

Evidence shows that being breastfed probably protects children against being overweight and obese, which in turn reduces their risk of cancer in the future.

The WCRF has called for more education on the benefits of breastfeeding to ensure that women are fully informed before making a decision about whether or not to breastfeed.

General manager Lucie Galice commented: "It is a real concern that so many women are unaware that breastfeeding can help prevent cancer.

"This means that many new mothers are making choices about whether to breastfeed without knowing it can help reduce cancer risk for both them and their child.

"It is clear we have a lot of work to do to raise awareness about the link between breastfeeding and cancer prevention because it is important that when it comes to deciding whether to breastfeed, women are in a position to make an informed choice," she added.

In its Expert Report, which was published in November 2007, WCRF recommends that women breastfeed exclusively for six months and then continue with complementary feeding.

The report was the first major cancer prevention report to make a specific recommendation on breastfeeding and reflects the findings of a large study by Cancer Research UK in 2002.

That found that, while the reason for the protective effect was unclear, breastfeeding lowers the mother's risk of breast cancer by 4.3 per cent for every year of feeding, meaning that if every child in Britain was breastfed for an extra six months there would be around 1,000 fewer cases of the disease every year.