Early stage research suggests that breastfeeding could affect a woman’s risk of getting type 2 diabetes and reduce the baby’s risk too.
Researchers in Canada believe breastfeeding uses up excess fat and sugar in a mother’s body, helping protect her from diabetes. As well, babies given breast milk are far less likely to become obese, which is strongly linked to the condition.
They found that women who had started breastfeeding were 23% less likely to develop diabetes over the 24-year time frame of data that was analysed and their babies were 18% less at risk compared to children who had been given formula milk.
The Canadian scientists say their findings are yet further evidence of the numerous health benefits of breastfeeding for women and their babies, but stressed that the results should be treated with caution as they have yet to be published in a peer reviewed journal.
The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding for six months, but many mothers fail to manage this. In some countries, such as the UK, mothers are embarrassed to do it in public or find it impractical if they are also working.
The research, led by Professor Gary Shen of the University of Manitoba, analysed the records of 334,553 babies born over a 24-year period in that region. He also studied whether the mothers had breastfed for any length of time and if they or their children had later developed diabetes.
Shen, who presented the findings at the World Diabetes Congress in Vancouver, said the results were independent of other factors, including gestational diabetes, gestational high blood pressure, family income, location of residence, age of mothers at birth and the birth weight of offspring.
Of the total studied, 60,088 births were to mothers from indigenous communities, where rates of diabetes in pregnancy (gestational diabetes) are two to three times higher than among non-indigenous mothers.
Gestational diabetes is known to be associated with a higher risk of later development of type 2 diabetes among both mothers and their offspring. Overall breastfeeding was recorded in 56% of indigenous mothers and 83% of non-indigenous mothers.
The researchers found that breastfeeding was associated with a 14% reduced risk of type 2 diabetes among indigenous mothers, a 23% reduced risk among non-indigenous mothers and an 18% lower risk among all children regardless of ethnicity.
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