There are already many proven benefits regarding breastfeeding for children, but a recent study shows that breastfeeding mothers may see positive outcomes in relation to their own health as well– a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Researchers at Kaiser Permanente North Carolina found that women with gestational diabetes who chose to breastfeed for more than two months cut their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 50 percent. The study explained that the longer the women breastfed, the lower their chances of developing type 2 diabetes.
“The main policy implication is that we need to focus our breastfeeding promotion efforts to high-risk women, those who are obese or have a pregnancy with gestational diabetes,” said Erica Gunderson, an epidemiologist who works for Kaiser Permanente North Carolina as a research scientist.
The study, headed by Gunderson and her team, followed 900 women two years after they had gestational diabetes during pregnancy and gave birth. The study reported that over this period of time, 12 percent of the women developed type 2 diabetes.
The women who breastfed their babies were then placed into five different categories: exclusive breastfeeding, exclusive formula feeding, mostly breastfeeding (less than 6 ounces of daily formula), mostly formula (more than 17 ounces of daily formula) and mixed feeding (7 to 17 ounces of daily formula). The study noted that mothers who exclusively breastfed their babies had a much lower risk (54 percent) of developing type 2 diabetes than mothers who fed their babies an exclusively formula diet.
Women who chose mixed feeding (half formula, half breast milk) still managed to reduce their odds of developing type 2 diabetes by more than a third as well. The study stressed that the mothers who exclusively formula-fed their babies were almost twice as likely to develop the condition.
Gunderson stated that breastfeeding offers the body a recovery period after pregnancy–during this time the body typically goes into overdrive with insulin production in order to safely maintain blood sugar levels.
“Breast-feeding uses up glucose and fat in the blood because those nutrients are transferred from the bloodstream into the breast tissue for milk production,” she explained. “These findings highlight the importance of prioritizing breastfeeding education and support for women with gestational diabetes as part of early diabetes prevention efforts by health care systems.”
The results of the study can be found in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The study itself was published online November 23.