The health lobby loves trying to terrify women. I won’t listen anymore

A mother feeding her baby
A mother feeding her baby

Women, and increasingly middle-aged women, bear the brunt of the health anxiety machine. Adding to the burden, a recent Lancet report has set out the lifestyle factors deemed to raise the risk of breast cancer are the usuals: drinking too much, eating too much, and sitting around too much.

To the great regret of this wine-loving hypochondriac, booze comes in for particular approbation. But in this case, it was another recommendation that caught my eye. One of the ways that women can apparently protect themselves against the spectre of breast cancer is by breastfeeding for a year for each child.

I had heard this a few years ago and thought it was odd – breastfeeding for a year isn’t something within the control of many women, and even those who do have a baby can often barely get to the six-month mark without going mad.

As a new mother myself, intimately aware of the dispiriting complexity of trying to get a tiny human to sustain herself through the imperfect medium of the nipple, I find the emphasis on breastfeeding as a way of protecting against breast cancer downright manipulative and coercive, as if we don’t have other things to worry about.

The actual benefits are marginal: a 4 per cent reduction in risk for each year of breastfeeding. So why make women even more anxious about a deeply anxiety-making stage of life? Are those who don’t have children meant to worry that’ll also kill them?

Stress is hardly good for health, and the stress of never sleeping because of total paranoid commitment to breastfeeding, or worrying that each glass of wine brings you closer to a slow and painful death, should be given equal or greater weighting. Otherwise you could die of stress trying not to die of cancer.