Breastfeeding for 6 Months or More can Reduce Risk of Diabetes by Half

Breastfeeding for 6 Months or More can Reduce Risk of Diabetes by Half

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Highlights:
  • Mothers who breastfeed their babies for 6 months or more reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by nearly half throughout their childbearing years.
  • Six months or more of breastfeeding reduces diabetes risk by 47%, while women who breastfeed for 6 months or less had a 25% reduction in diabetes risk.
  • Breastfeeding also lowers the mother's risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.
Breastfeeding for six months or longer reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by half in women throughout their childbearing years, suggests new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine. A 47% risk reduction was observed in women who breastfed for 6 months or over and 25% risk reduction among women who breastfed for less than 6 months.
Breastfeeding for 6 Months or More can Reduce Risk of Diabetes by Half

"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 P. Gunderson, PhD, MS, MPH, a senior research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research.

Protective Effect of Breastfeeding

The participants included 1,238 black and white women who did not have diabetes when they enrolled in Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA), or prior to their subsequent pregnancies. CARDIA was a national investigation of cardiovascular disease risk factors that originally enrolled about 5,000 adults including more than 1,000 members of Kaiser Permanente Northern California.

Each woman had at least one live birth either during or after their enrollment. They were followed-up for a period of 30 years post their enrollment where they were routinely screened for diabetes. The women also reported the amount of time they spent breastfeeding.

"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 said.

The team was also accounted for pre-pregnancy metabolic risk factors, including obesity, fasting glucose, insulin, lifestyle behaviors and family history of diabetes in the study group.

Study findings

  • Study strengthens results from previous studies that suggest breastfeeding lowers a mother's risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.
  • Black women were three times more likely than white women to develop diabetes within the 30-year follow-up. Also, black women enrolled in CARDIA were less likely to breastfeed than white women.
  • However, the long-term benefits of breastfeeding that is reducing the risk of diabetes, were similar for black women and white women, and women with and without gestational diabetes.
  • Six months or more of breastfeeding reduces diabetes risk by 47% while less than 6 months of breastfeeding reduced diabetes risk by 25%.
"The incidence of diabetes decreased in a graded manner as breastfeeding duration increased, regardless of race, gestational diabetes, lifestyle behaviors, body size, and other metabolic risk factors measured before pregnancy, implying the possibility that the underlying mechanism may be biological," Gunderson said.

The team suggests that the strong association between breastfeeding and lowering diabetes risk is yet another reason that doctors, nurses, and hospitals should support and encourage women to breastfeed as long as possible.

Reference:
  1. Erica P. Gunderson, Cora E. Lewis, Ying Lin; et al., Lactation Duration and Progression to Diabetes in Women Across the Childbearing Years. JAMA Internal Medicine (2018), DOI:10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.7978

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