One of our Cancer Prevention Recommendations for mothers is breastfeed your baby, if you can. Breastfeeding is good for both mother and baby.

There is strong evidence that breastfeeding protects against breast cancer in the mother and promotes healthy growth in the infant.

Evidence on cancer and other diseases shows that sustained, exclusive breastfeeding is protective for the mother as well as the child

Lactation protects the mother against breast cancer and having been breastfed protects children against overweight and obesity, and therefore against those cancers for which weight gain, overweight and obesity are a cause.

This Recommendation is consistent with a large body of evidence supporting the role of breastfeeding in promoting other aspects of health throughout the life course.

Other health benefits of breastfeeding

Breastfeeding provides short- and long-term benefits for the baby – breastfeeding protects the development of the immature immune system and protects against infections in infancy. The benefits continue in to childhood and adulthood with lower risk of asthma and type 2 diabetes. For children, having been breastfed reduces the risk of being overweight or obese. Excess body fatness tends to track in to adult life and can increase the risk of many cancers. Mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

A global goal

The Expert Panel endorses the advice of the World Health Organization, which recommends infants are exclusively breastfed for six months, and then for up to two years or beyond alongside appropriate complementary foods.

There are special situations where breastfeeding is recommended with caution or is not advised, such as for mothers with HIV/AIDS.

“At the beginning of life, human milk is best. The benefits for both mother and baby are greater the longer the cumulative duration of breastfeeding.”
– This is the conclusion of the Continuous Update Project Expert Panel

Public health and policy implications

In most countries, only a minority of mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies until four months, and an even smaller number until six months. A whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach is necessary to create environments for mothers that are conducive to breastfeeding their babies.

A comprehensive package of policies is needed to promote, protect and support breastfeeding, including making all hospitals supportive of breastfeeding, providing counselling in health care settings, implementing maternity protection in the workplace, and regulating marketing of breastmilk substitutes. Policymakers are encouraged to frame specific goals and actions according to their national context. Find out more on policy action for cancer prevention.

Our Recommendations work together as an overall way of living healthily to prevent cancer. Download the full chapter PDF below