In January this year, the journal JAMA Internal Medicine reported that breastfeeding substantially reduces the risk of mothers developing type 2 diabetes. Researchers analysed 30 years of data from CARDIA (Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults), and the results were staggering. Women who breastfed for six months or more – in total for all their babies – had a 47% reduction in their risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who did not breastfeed at all. Women who breastfed for six months or less had a 25% reduction in diabetes risk.
"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 Gunderson. Even better, the incidence of diabetes decreased in a graded manner as breastfeeding duration increased, regardless of race, gestational diabetes, lifestyle behaviours and body size.
There are several plausible biological explanations for the protective effects of breastfeeding, including the influence of lactation-associated hormones on the pancreatic cells that control blood insulin levels and thereby impact blood sugar.
Then in February this year, researchers at the American College of Cardiology also reported long-term health benefits for breastfeeding mothers. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh found that that women who breastfeed their babies for at least six months may benefit from better cardiovascular health years later in comparison to those who never breastfed their babies.
They studied 678 pregnant women who had been recruited between 1998 and 2004, whose health was assessed in a follow-up appointment 7 to 15 years later. On average, women who breastfed longer were older, had a lower body mass index and had a higher socio-economic status. After adjusting for such factors, the researchers found that women with normal blood pressure during pregnancy who breastfed for six months or more had significantly higher levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol, lower triglycerides, and healthier carotid artery thickness, compared to those who had never breastfed.
"The study adds to the evidence that lactation is important not just for the baby but for the mother," said lead author Malamo Countouris. Tracy Flanagan MD, director of women's health for Kaiser Permanente Northern California, concludes, “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."
Close to the Heart Vol. 19, No. 2 (Mid-Year 2018)
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