The longer women with gestational diabetes breastfeed their babies, the lower their risk for developing type-2 diabetes later in life, says a new study.
The decision on how and for how long a mother nurses a child is their choice, but experts say there are a lot of benefits in doing so. Breastfeeding can lower the risk of breast and ovarian cancer in women, and even help new mothers get back to pre-pregnancy weight faster. Research also says that children who are breastfed are at a lower risk of obesity, asthma, lymphoma, and Hodgkins disease, and leukemia. Latest research on breastfeeding says that it can lower the risk of type-2 diabetes in women with a history of gestational diabetes.
What is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes happens when a pregnant woman’s body is unable to produce enough insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels. This usually happens in the second or the third trimester but can happen anytime during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes can put the mother and the baby at risk but early detection can help in better management. It usually disappears after childbirth.
Breastfeeding may lower the risk for type-2 diabetes
Researchers studied the association of breastfeeding in more than 4,000 women with a history of gestational diabetes, over 25 years. This was a part of the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) II, one of the largest investigations into the risk factors for major chronic diseases in women.
The study found out that longer lifetime lactation duration was linked with lower risk of type-2 diabetes. It was also associated with lower concentrations of HbA1c (glycated haemoglobin), fasting insulin, and C-peptide (byproduct of insulin in the pancreas) among middle-aged women without type-2 diabetes.
Out of the women in the study with gestational diabetes, 873 developed type-2 diabetes over 25 years. Those with gestational diabetes who breastfed longer (for total lactation of up to 6 months or two years) were found to have a lower incidence of type-2 diabetes.
Another study conducted on 1,035 women showed similar results. Researchers noted that during the follow up in two years, about 12% of the women developed type-2 diabetes, but women who exclusively breastfed or mostly breastfed were less likely to develop type-2 diabetes compared to those who did not. Those who breastfed for longer cut their risk significantly, according to the study. “Higher lactation intensity and longer duration were independently associated with lower 2-year incidences of DM (diabetes mellitus) after GDM (Gestational diabetes mellitus) pregnancy. Lactation may prevent DM after GDM delivery,” the study concluded.
It is also, however, important to note that some women are unable to exclusively breastfeed their babies, which can have a negative impact on their mental health, can cause anxiety and depression, and increase their chances of developing symptoms of postpartum depression.
- Lactation Duration and Long-term Risk for Incident Type 2 Diabetes in Women With a History of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus. Sylvia H. Ley, Jorge E. Chavarro, Mengying L, Wei Bao, Stefanie N. Hinkle, Pandora L. Wander, Janet Rich-Edwards, Sjurdur Olsen, Allan Vaag, Peter Damm, Louise G. Grunnet, James L. Mills, Frank B. Hu and Cuilin Zhang.
- Lactation and Progression to Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus After Gestational Diabetes Mellitus: A Prospective Cohort Study. Erica P Gunderson, Shanta R Hurston, Xian Ning, Joan C Lo, Yvonne Crites, David Walton, Kathryn G Dewey, Robert A Azevedo, Stephen Young, Gary Fox, Cathie C Elmasian, Nora Salvador, Michael Lum, Barbara Sternfeld, Charles P Quesenberry Jr, Study of Women, Infant Feeding and Type 2 Diabetes After GDM Pregnancy Investigators.