Breastfeeding a newborn for even one month will lower a woman's lifetime risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to a study published Friday. Other research has also linked breastfeeding to a reduced risk of diabetes among women, but the new study establishes the strength of the association to a much greater degree.
The question now is, why wouldn't every new mother breastfeed for at least one month? And, how can society make it easier on new mothers so they can nurse?
The study, led by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, examined data from 2,233 women in California's Kaiser Permanente healthcare system. The women, ages 40 to 78, provided information on births, breastfeeding practices for each child, duration of breastfeeding and history of Type 2 diabetes.
Researchers found that 27% of the mothers who did not breastfeed developed Type 2 diabetes. These women were almost twice as likely to develop the disease compared with women who had breastfed or who had never given birth. Among the women who breastfed for one to six months, 19% developed Type 2 diabetes compared with 16% among women who breastfed for six months or more.
While other studies have suggested women need to breastfeed for six months to realize the health benefits of nursing, this study showed significant benefits with just one month of breastfeeding.
Type 2 diabetes has become a common problem in the United States due to rising rates of obesity. While breastfeeding can help a new mother lose weight, that's probably not the only explanation for lower diabetes rates. Breastfeeding helps women lose the worst kind of body fat -- visceral fat -- which they accrue during pregnancy. Lactation also may improve glucose metabolism and insulin resistance and may slow the response to growth hormone. All of these effects could contribute to the lower diabetes risk among women who nurse their babies.
Here's the problem, the authors wrote: "While breastfeeding is widely acknowledged to benefit infant health, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers exclusively breastfeed their infants for the first six months . . . only 14% of U.S. mothers were able to follow this recommendation."
The study appears in the September issue of the American Journal of Medicine.
-- Shari Roan / Los Angeles Times
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