Many new moms are too busy to think about their own health, between running on little-to-no sleep and worrying about their around-the-clock childcare schedule. It's critical, however, to take care of yourself and understand your health risks, especially since women are at an increased risk for developing breast cancer for up to five years (or longer) after giving birth, which is known as pregnancy-associated breast cancer.
Why? Because the hormones that prepare the breast to lactate can also fuel a cancer cell. Although pregnancy-associated breast cancer is rare, and less than 5% of breast cancer cases are found in women younger than 40 each year, all new moms have a short-term increase in the risk of breast cancer after childbirth. According to the National Cancer Institute, women who have children in their 30s or later have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer than those who have never given birth or women of younger ages.
All women should know how their breasts normally look and feel, and report any changes to their ob-gyn or primary care doctor right away.
Here are four important steps all new moms should consider:
If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, follow up immediately with your doctor to ensure timely and higher quality cancer care. The organization Living Beyond Breast Cancer has excellent educational guides and information for any women or man newly diagnosed with breast cancer.
Marc Hurlbert, Ph.D., is chief mission officer of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. He shares important research updates all women and men should be aware of related to breast cancer risk and risk-reduction strategies.