Women who breastfeed for several months may receive an unexpected health benefit later on, according to newly published research. A long-term national study found that breastfeeding for 6 months or longer cuts the risk of developing type 2 diabetes nearly in half for women throughout their childbearing years.
The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine by Kaiser Permanente, included 1,238 women who did not have diabetes at the beginning of the 30-year study. All the women had at least one live birth throughout those 30 years and were routinely screened for diabetes. The participants also reported their lifestyle behaviors — including how long they breastfed their children.
"We found a very strong association between breastfeeding duration and lower risk of developing diabetes, even after accounting for all possible confounding risk factors," said lead author Erica P. Gunderson, PhD.
Interestingly enough, the incidence of diabetes decreased as breastfeeding duration increased, regardless of other factors such as race, lifestyle behaviors, and body size measured before pregnancy, according to Dr. Gunderson. She said there is a possibility that the underlying mechanism may be biological.
We've know for a long time that breastfeeding has many benefits both for mothers and babies, however, previous studies showed only weak effects on chronic disease in women. But with this new study there is stronger evidence showing that mothers who breastfeed for months after their delivery may be reducing their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to one half as they get older. This is yet another reason that doctors, nurses, and hospitals as well as policymakers should support women and their families to breastfeed as long as possible.