Women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of developing type II diabetes later in life, according to a Kaiser Permanente study published in Journal of the American Medical Association on Jan. 16.
Compared to women who didn’t breastfeed at all, women who breastfed for more than six months reduced their risk of developing type II diabetes by 47 percent, and those that breastfed for six months or fewer had a 25 percent decrease in risk, the study says.
The study shows breastfeeding also decreased the risk among women who developed gestational diabetes during pregnancy, a condition that causes high blood sugar in expecting mothers.
The reason for this may be related to the effect lactation-associated hormones have on the pancreatic cells that control blood insulin levels, according to a release from the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research. But, it’ll take further studies to determine the biological factors behind this decrease in risk, said Dr. Erica Gunderson, the lead author of the study.
This study examined the outcomes for black and white women over a 30-year period, using data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study, a national study of risk factors for cardiovascular disease that started in the 1980s. Many of the people used for Kaiser’s study are in Northern California, according to the release.
Black women enrolled in the study were less likely to breastfeed than white women, and were also three times more likely to develop diabetes.
The results of this study are consistent with other research showing breastfeeding has numerous health benefits for mother and baby.
For mothers, breastfeeding immediately after birth can reduce blood loss, said Dr. Michele Evans, a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente in Roseville. It can also contribute to decreased risk for breast and ovarian cancer.
For babies, breastfeeding can help immunity and prevent diarrhea, pneumonia and cold, Evans said. Over the long-term, it can also decrease the risk of obesity, sudden infant death syndrome and certain types of cancer.
The Centers for Disease Control reports breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition for infants, and that the percentage of babies who start out breastfeeding has continued to increase since 2004.
“It’s recommended women breastfeed exclusively for the first six months and continue for a year or longer depending on the preference of the mom and baby,” Evans said.
In a 2016 Breastfeeding Report Card by the CDC, 81 percent of U.S. moms begin breastfeeding in the hospital but many stop earlier than recommended. Nearly 52 percent were breastfeeding their infants at six months of age, and less than a third were breastfeeding when their babies turned a year old.
“If you breastfeed more than six months, you get more protective benefits,” Gunderson said.
“For a woman who’s breastfeeding for the first time, it can be uncomfortable,” Evans said. “There can be difficulty in getting the baby to latch. I would encourage moms to be patient with themselves and their baby. There are a lot of issues that seem like big obstacles at the beginning, but with some support, can be worked through.”
Evans is a relatively new mother herself and said she experienced some difficulty when trying to breastfeed her first son. “It was very painful so I went to see a lactation consultant,” she said. Afterward, she was able to breastfeed her two sons for more than a year until they weaned themselves naturally.