Breastfeeding has many known benefits for the baby and the mother, and now there is research suggesting that it could lower the mother’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes is when the mother develops high blood sugar during her pregnancy. Between five and nine percent of pregnancies result in gestational diabetes, and women who are overweight, over the age of 35 or who have a history of diabetes are at a higher risk.
The researchers, from Kaiser Permanente in California, found that mothers who experience gestational diabetes are up to seven times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. The new findings suggest that breastfeeding may prevent gestational diabetes from progressing into type 2 diabetes.
Researchers aimed to uncover how breastfeeding affects a woman’s risk of developing diabetes. The study looked at 1,035 women who were diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Glucose tolerance tests were performed weeks after labor and again at one and two years after delivery. The women’s infant-feeding practices were also gathered monthly for up to one year post-delivery.
Within two years post-delivery nearly 12 percent of the women developed type 2 diabetes. The women who exclusively breastfed decreased their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 35 to 57 percent, compared to those who used formula after delivery.
Increasing the duration the woman breastfed for and the frequency or intensity of the breastfeeding further reduced her risk of developing diabetes. The results remained even after adjusting for other risk factors of diabetes, such as weight, race and/or ethnicity, gestational weight gain and treatment for gestational diabetes.
Dr. Erica P. Gunderson, lead researcher, said, “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 findings were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.