It’s well known that breastfeeding provides many benefits to both mother and child. There’s a growing body of evidence that it can reduce the risk of a woman developing breast and ovarian cancer. But according to new research, it could also prevent another type of chronic disease.
Breastfeeding for six months or longer appears to significantly cut the chances of a woman developing Type 2 diabetes, a 30-year national U.S. study suggests.
The Kaiser Permanente research, published Tuesday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, is based on an analysis of data from participants in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study.
It found women in the study who breastfed for that length of time had a 47-per-cent reduction in their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes compared to those who did not breastfeed.
Women who breastfed for six months or less had a 25-per-cent reduction in diabetes risk.
Lead author Erica Gunderson says researchers found a “very strong association” between breastfeeding duration and lower risk of developing diabetes. They also discovered the incidence of diabetes decreased in a graded manner as breastfeeding duration increased.
She says a plausible explanation for the protective mechanism is the influence of lactation-associated hormones on the pancreatic cells that control blood insulin levels and thereby impact blood sugar.
The study included 1,238 black and white women who did not have diabetes when they enrolled in CARDIA, which started looking at risk factors for cardiovascular disease in the 1980s in a group of more than 5,000 black and white men and women, aged 18 to 30 years.
Over 30 years, each woman included in the latest research gave birth to at least one child and was routinely screened for diabetes. Their lifestyle was also examined, as well as the duration they breastfed their children.
Gunderson says researchers also analyzed the family history and pre-pregnancy metabolic risk, including obesity.