We've all heard of breastfeeding's benefits. Numerous studies over the years have credited breastmilk with everything from improving baby's immune system to increasing her brain development.
Now, researchers have found another important benefit: Breastfeeding may decrease a child's risk for leukemia. Leukemia is the most common form of childhood cancer, and accounts for 30 percent of the 175,000 cases of childhood cancer worldwide annually.
The research, published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, reviewed 18 previous studies that had focused on leukemia and infants who were breastfed. Collectively, the data came from more than 10,000 children diagnosed with leukemia as well as 17,500 children with no health issues.
It was found that babies who were breastfed for at least six months had a 19 percent lower risk for leukemia than babies who had been breastfed for less than six months, or not at all. The authors of the study equate the lower risk to the antibodies within a woman's breast milk that boost infants' immune systems.
These findings suggest that between 14 and 19 percent of childhood leukemia cases could potentially be prevented by a mother breastfeeding her baby for at least six months after birth.
Caitlin St John is an Editorial Assistant for Parents.com who splits her time between New York City and her hometown on Long Island. Follow her on Twitter: @CAITYstjohn
One Family's Experience with Childhood Cancer
Image: Breastfeeding baby via Shutterstock