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Can Breastfeeding Help Prevent Diabetes?

A natural process with a lifetime of benefits, breastfeeding offers a newborn a storehouse of nutrients and protective compounds. While we have always known it does wonders for the baby and mother, we now know that it can also help tackle a health condition that is increasingly prevalent - diabetes.

Say mother and child and the first thing to pop into your mind is an image of a mother looking down tenderly at her baby as she feeds it. Breastfeeding has been ingeniously designed by nature to be hugely beneficial for the mother and the child. The positive outcomes are seen in health, development, and psychological factors. But can it also reduce the chances of diabetes for both baby and mommy?

Baby Benefits: Breast Beats Bottle

If a new mother is able to produce enough milk to feed her baby, that’s the ideal way to go. For a newborn, breastmilk is the most beneficial source of all nutrients, so much so that they don’t even need water when exclusively breastfed. The benefits are countless – it offers a time of bonding for the mother and child, and is easily accessible in natural and hygienic form, safe for the baby’s delicate digestive system, suited to the baby’s taste buds, and, of course, free!

Medically also breastmilk trumps any other form of nutrition. Several studies show that the baby’s body gains immensely, with decreased risks of infectious diseases, allergies, asthma, high blood pressure, respiratory ailments, and, yes, even diabetes.1

Gestational Diabetes

A common development for pregnant women is gestational diabetes (hormonal changes that result in increased insulin resistance and hence pregnancy-induced diabetes). While it is caused by pregnancy and will usually subside after the mother delivers, it does linger on in some cases beyond the expected 2–3 months post-delivery. It also ups the chances of the mother developing diabetes later in life. As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9% of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes and they have a 3–7 fold risk of the onset of type 2 diabetes later in life.2 Breastfeeding for at least 6 months lowers the chances of the mother developing type 2 diabetes. Lactation impacts the hormonal regulation of pancreatic cells and increases glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity – both favorable outcomes.3

There’s an impact on the baby too. Gestational diabetes in the mother typically results in higher weight babies and increased chances of childhood obesity. It also means the baby has been exposed to diabetes in utero so the likelihood of type 2 diabetes later in life also increases. Breastfeeding for the first few months can neutralize this. Exclusive breastmilk for 3–6 months is associated with a lower incidence of childhood obesity and, consequently, a lower risk of type 2 diabetes in the child. This is true for children of mothers with existing type 2 diabetes or just gestational diabetes.4

What Else Is In It For Mommy?

Grandma was right. Breastfeeding for at least 6 months does help you lose that stubborn pregnancy fat.5 It also has been found to decrease the risk of breast and ovarian cancer and, later, in the postmenopausal stage, chances of bone fractures and osteoporosis are reduced.6 Incidentally, breastfeeding releases oxytocin in the body, a huge stress-buster. Given that stress can aggravate diabetes, this too helps reduce the risks.

Got Milk!

Breastfeeding exclusively for 6 months may not sound like a whole lot of fun, but it certainly brings a lot of benefits to the child and the mother. Bonding aside, the baby’s body gets its full dose of nutrients, the mother can burn away those calories, and diabetes is kept at bay! And look at it this way – you never have to stop the car hunting for a restaurant. Mamma’s got breakfast, lunch, and dinner covered!

References   [ + ]

1. Gartner, Lawrence M., Jane Morton, Ruth A. Lawrence, Audrey J. Naylor, Donna O’Hare, Richard J. Schanler, and Arthur I. Eidelman. “Breastfeeding and the use of human milk.” Pediatrics 115, no. 2 (2005): 496-506.
2. DeSisto, Carla L. “Prevalence estimates of gestational diabetes mellitus in the United States, pregnancy risk assessment monitoring system (PRAMS), 2007–2010.” Preventing chronic disease 11 (2014).
3. Gunderson, Erica P. “Impact of breastfeeding on maternal metabolism: implications for women with gestational diabetes.” Current diabetes reports 14, no. 2 (2014): 1-9.
4. Turck, D. “Breast feeding: health benefits for child and mother.” Archives de pediatrie: organe officiel de la Societe francaise de pediatrie 12 (2005): S145-65.
5. Dewey, Kathryn G., M. Jane Heinig, and Laurie A. Nommsen. “Maternal weight-loss patterns during prolonged lactation.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 58, no. 2 (1993): 162-166.
6. Turck, D. “[Breast feeding: health benefits for child and mother].” Archives de pediatrie: organe officiel de la Societe francaise de pediatrie 12 (2005): S145-65.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.