Breast health is a lifelong commitment, but many women don't consider its importance until middle age, when they begin undergoing annual mammograms. Although it's never too late to start practicing healthy habits, women in their twenties and thirties can benefit from making their breast health a priority early in life.
Limit your alcohol intake
You may love to finish your day with a glass of wine, but too much of a good thing can be detrimental to your breast health. Compared to women who did not drink alcohol, those who had three alcoholic drinks per week had a 15 percent higher risk of breast cancer.
"For most people, it's hard to say that they'll give up alcohol completely, so what's more realistic is setting a weekly expectation," says Dr. Mahmud. "For the best breast health, women shouldn't exceed drinking two or three drinks per week."
For women, one drink is equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.
Avoid self-care products with harmful chemicals
If you're concerned about the ingredients in your food and drink and how they affect your health, you should be equally concerned about the ingredients in your self-care products, too. Toxins like BPA, pesticides, and parabens can all be included in cosmetic products like lotions, deodorants, laundry detergents, and fabric softeners.
"What you put on your body is just as important as what you put in your body," says Dr. Mahmud. "Look for products that are BPA-free and don't contain parabens, pesticides, herbicides, and are labeled 'organic.'"
Breastfeed, if you can
You've heard that breastfeeding can give your baby a healthy start, but did you know it has health benefits for mom, too?
Women who breastfed for a total of at least one year over the course of a lifetime decreased their risk of being diagnosed with or dying from breast cancer, and also benefited from protection against ovarian cancer and osteoporosis.
Every journey to motherhood is different and one of the most important decisions to make as a new parent is how to feed your child. Talk to your OB/GYN about whether breastfeeding is right for you and, if you're struggling with breastfeeding, discuss your concerns with a physician or a certified lactation consultant.
Avoid exposure to tobacco
Not smoking and avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke is one of the best things you can do for your body, and that includes your breasts. Research has suggested a link between smoking and breast cancer risk, particularly among premenopausal women. If you smoke, quit. If you're not a smoker, limit your exposure to secondhand smoke by staying away from designated smoking areas.
Eat a healthy diet—with a capital 'D'
Diet is an important component of breast health, and it should include plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins like turkey, chicken, and fish, and organic foods. One key ingredient for a breast-healthy diet is Vitamin D, as there have been some studies that suggest the nutrient has an impact on cancer risk and cancer cell growth.
"A few minutes in the sun can provide most women with their daily intake of Vitamin D, but it can also be found in foods like milk, orange juice, and salmon," says Dr. Mahmud. Every woman's nutritional needs will vary, and your health care provider can help you choose the best diet for you.
It can be difficult to find the time or energy to exercise, but it's essential for your breast health. Not only does regular exercise lower your risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer or a breast cancer recurrence, it also decreases your risk for a number of other health conditions, as well, including heart disease, diabetes, and other cancers.
Whether you enjoy running, yoga, or biking, carve out time to sweat for at least two and a half hours each week to reap all the health benefits of an exercise routine.
In addition to these healthy habits, make sure you're keeping up with the most important thing you can do for your breast health: breast exams.
"Even if you are not eligible to begin undergoing annual mammograms, you should still be familiar with the look and feel of your breasts so that you can be aware of any changes and alert your doctor of them," says Dr. Mahmud.