What does breastfeeding have to do with diabetes?

The same factors that contribute to diabetes can also cause new mothers to have a low milk supply, according to a new study from Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

Women who were diagnosed with low milk supply were 2.5 times more likely to experience gestational diabetes than their peers, the study found. It appears that insulin metabolism can affect milk production, which explains the association.

"We need to better understand how we can identify mothers at risk for low milk supply and how best to support them in meeting their breastfeeding goals," says Sarah Riddle, MD, a pediatrician at the Center for Breastfeeding Medicine and lead author of the study. "We also need to develop targeted therapies to support lactation success in women with a history of glucose intolerance."

Body mass also a factor

The study also found that even women who didn't experience diabetes in pregnancy – but who had higher body mass index, elevated fasting insulin or insulin resistance – were all more likely to have insufficient milk supply.

"The single most important factor in building a strong milk supply is frequent and thorough breastfeeding beginning at birth," Riddle said. "This is why it is so important for maternity hospitals to adopt the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding. However, one consequence of the obesity epidemic is that nearly one out of every four reproductive-aged women is pre-diabetic. Research to inform how to support lactation success in this vulnerable group of women is urgently needed."

Dr. Riddle is planning to research how metformin, a drug used to help blood sugar control in diabetics, might affect milk production in pre-diabetic mothers.

Source: Cincinnati Children's Hospital

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