Doctors have long suspected that mothers who breastfeed their babies have a lower risk of diabetes. Now, a 30-year study just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association confirmed this is true. Diabetes is a chronic disease we all want to avoid, since it increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney and eye diseases, as well as neurological problems including Alzheimer’s.
The American study showed a reduction of up to 48% in the mothers who breastfed. And overall, the longer the mother breastfed, the lower the risk she would develop diabetes later in life.
The study followed 1238 women over an average of 25 years after they delivered; some mothers were followed for 30 years. Their average age at the start of the study was 24 years, and none of the women had diabetes at the start of the study.
Length of breastfeeding mattered
The mothers who breastfed for 6 months or less showed a 25% decreased long-term risk of developing diabetes. The mothers who breastfed for 6 to 12 months showed a 48% lower risk, with this same reduction for mothers who breastfed longer than 12 months.
Why breastfeeding works
The researchers believe that the reason the breastfeeding women enjoy this health benefit is because a breastfeeding mother has a different (and healthier) hormonal composition in her blood. This hormonal mix acts on the pancreas, the organ that releases insulin, and lowers circulating sugar and insulin levels. Basically, breastfeeding seems to help protect a woman’s pancreas from “wearing out” as she gets older. A worn-out pancreas produces less insulin, and diabetes can result.
Breastfeeding also cuts her cancer risk
Previous studies have shown another benefit for breastfeeding mothers. Those who breastfeed more than 12 months during their lifetime (total after one or more babies) have a 28% lower risk of both ovarian and breast cancers.
Other health benefits
Mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of post-partum depression, which may be due to both the healthier hormonal mix as well as improved bonding between mother and child. Other studies have suggested a lower risk of osteoporosis later in life, and breastfeeding women may have an easier time losing weight after the first three months following delivery.
With all these benefits, you can understand why the principal medical associations of gynecology and pediatrics recommend breastfeeding for 1 year. But what about the benefits to the baby? Our next post is all about this.
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