Breastfeeding protects mothers from developing type 2 diabetes

by Barbara Hewitt on January 17, 2018

Mothers who breastfed for at least six months reduced their risk of developing type 2 diabetes throughout their childbearing years by almost half compared with those who did not breastfeed, a new 30 year study has found.

‘We found a very strong association between breastfeeding duration and lower risk of developing diabetes, even after accounting for all possible confounding risk factors,’ said lead author Erica Gunderson, a senior research scientist at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, California.

Breastfeeding

(By Tomsickova Tatyana/Shutterstock.com)

‘The incidence of diabetes decreased in a graded manner as breastfeeding duration increased, regardless of race, gestational diabetes, lifestyle behaviours, body size, and other metabolic risk factors measured before pregnancy, implying the possibility that the underlying mechanism may be biological,’ she explained.

The study followed 5,000 American women for 30 years through their reproductive years and beyond and women who breastfed for six months or more were 47% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.

The scientist believe that breastfeeding alters a woman’s hormone levels which may have protective effects, reducing risks of diabetes and also female cancers such as breast and ovarian cancer.

Dr Gunderson pointed out that several plausible biological mechanisms are possible for the protective effects of breastfeeding, including the influence of lactation associated hormones on the pancreatic cells that control blood insulin levels and thereby impact blood sugar.

‘Unlike previous studies of breastfeeding, which relied on self-reporting of diabetes onset and began to follow older women later in life, we were able to follow women specifically during the childbearing period and screen them regularly for diabetes before and after pregnancies,’ she added.

While it has been known for a long time that breastfeeding has many benefits both for mothers and babies, previous evidence showed only weak effects on chronic disease in women.

‘Now we see much stronger protection from this new study showing that mothers who breastfeed for months after their delivery, may be reducing their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to one half as they get older,’ said Dr Tracy Flanagan, director of women’s health for Kaiser Permanente Northern California.

‘This is yet another reason that doctors, nurses, and hospitals as well as policymakers should support women and their families to breastfeed as long as possible,’ she added.

Limitations of the study included the variable time of health assessments relative to pregnancies and the fact that women self-reported pregnancy complications. The researchers note that accurate reporting of GD and other perinatal outcomes is a strength of the study.

‘Unlike previous studies of breastfeeding, which relied on self-reporting of diabetes onset and began to follow older women later in life, we were able to follow women specifically during the childbearing period and screen them regularly for diabetes before and after pregnancies,’ Gunderson also pointed out.

‘Lactation is a natural biological process with the enormous potential to provide long term benefits to maternal health, but has been underappreciated as a potential key strategy for early primary prevention of metabolic diseases in women across the childbearing years and beyond,’ the research concluded.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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