Breastfeeding Tied to a Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

There is no question that breastfeeding has many benefits for the infant. But a new study shows that breastfeeding may also benefit the mother. According to the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, breastfeeding mothers have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

Study researchers followed 1,238 women with an average age of 24 for nearly 3 decades. Each of the females delivered at least one child and none of the females had any evidence of diabetes prior to the start of the study.

The scientists then accumulated clinical data on these women. They followed them up in clinics and collected data on lifestyle, health and even their diet. Most women had a minimum of 7 clinical visits where they were also examined over the course of the project.

The results

What the researchers noted was that there were 182 cases of type 2 diabetes, even after adjusting for smoking, physical activity, and other factors. However, they observed that women who had breastfed for up to 6 months had a markedly lowered risk of Type 2 diabetes – by 25 percent. Women who had breastfed for 6-12 months had a 48 percent lower risk and those who breastfed for longer than 12 months had a 47 percent lower risk of developing diabetes.

This association between breastfeeding and a lowered risk of diabetes also held for obese women and for those who had gestational diabetes, both of which are very strong risk factors for the development of type 2 diabetes.

How does breastfeeding lower risk of diabetes?

The exact mechanism as to how breastfeeding decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes is not known, but the researchers have a few theories. It could be that women who are lactating have decreased levels of circulating glucose and that breastfeeding helps improve the function of the pancreatic cells that manufacture and secrete insulin. Another mechanism may be that breastfeeding increases the response to insulin, and thus a state of hyperglycemia doesn’t develop.

The benefits of breastfeeding in the infant have been known for decades, but this is the first time a study has shown that this physiological process also helps the mother in the long run. Unfortunately, this is only an observational study and whether the results hold up in randomized studies remains to be seen. In any case, breastfeeding causes no harm and should be advocated in all women.