Does Breastfeeding Prevent Diabetes?

Breastfeeding a newborn holds many benefits for mommy and baby; it reduces the baby's risk for colds and viruses, it helps his bones (and yours) get nice and strong, and it offers plenty of time for the two of you to bond.

And now, new research indicates that there may be another benefit to breastfeeding: it protects mothers against type 2 diabetes.

A New Study

A team of researchers at the Helmholtz Zentrum München, a German research center, studied 200 women who had developed gestational diabetes during their pregnancy. The woman, who on average had given birth three and a half year earlier, were given a standardized glucose solution and provided a blood sample, which was then compared to 156 known metabolites.

"We observed that the metabolites in women who had breastfed for more than three months differed significantly from those who had had shorter lactation periods," reported first-author Dr. Daniela Much. "Longer periods of lactation are linked to a change in the production of phospholipids and to lower concentrations of branched-chain amino acids in the mothers' blood plasma."

Familiar Findings

Dr. Much and her team's research sounds a similar note to an earlier study from Helmholtz Zentrum München's Institute for Diabetes Research. The earlier study found that women who breastfed their babies for longer than three months were protected from developing type 2 diabetes, though they were unable to pinpoint why. Such a development is particularly poignant for new mothers – especially in Germany, where one in two women who suffer gestational diabetes will develop type 2 within 10 years.

The study points to breastfeeding as an effective (not to mention cost-effective) method to ward of type 2 diabetes for new mothers, which the IDF team hopes will lead to new treatment recommendations in the future. "On average, women with gestational diabetes breastfeed less often and for shorter duration than non-diabetic mothers," said Dr. Sandra Hummel, head of the Gestational Diabetes working group at the IDF. "The aim is now to develop strategies that will improve the breastfeeding behaviors of mothers with gestational diabetes."

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