Women who breastfeed for more than
six months might reduce their risk of developing the more
common type of diabetes, says a new study thought to be
the first to make such a connection.
In addition, researchers report in
The Journal of the American Medical Association,
it appears that women's risk of type 2 diabetes declines
with each additional year they breastfeed in their lives.
"For right now, I think the bottom
line is breastfeeding isn't just good for babies; it's
also good for mothers," says lead author Alison Stuebe,
a clinical fellow in maternal-fetal medicine at the Brigham
and Women's Hospital in Boston.
The American Academy of Pediatrics
recommends that women breastfeed each baby for at least
a year, but relatively few U.S. women breastfeed that
Researchers from the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2003, only
about 36% of U.S. babies were breastfed to some extent
at 6 months old. By their first birthday, only about 17%
were still getting some breast milk — well below
the government's "Healthy People 2010" goal of 25%.
Most research about breastfeeding's
effect on mothers' long-term health has focused on breast
cancer, says co-author Karin Michels, associate professor
of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at
Harvard Medical School. But women need to breastfeed for
more than a year to cut their breast cancer risk, Michels
The researchers analyzed data from
about 157,000 female nurses who answered questions about
how many pregnancies they'd had and how long they breastfed
each child. The nurses also answered a variety of questions
related to lifestyle and personal and family medical history.
Women who breastfed for longer periods
were less likely to have a family history of diabetes
and, on average, had a lower body mass index upon enrollment
in the study. But even after accounting for those possible
confounding factors, the researchers still found a connection
between breastfeeding and lower diabetes risk.
Among women who had given birth in
the previous 15 years, the risk of diabetes fell about
15% with every additional year of breastfeeding, the authors
write. Breastfeeding one child for a year was associated
with a greater risk reduction than breastfeeding two children
for a total of a year.
Breastfeeding had no effect on diabetes
risk in women who'd had gestational diabetes, perhaps
because they have a much higher risk of type 2 diabetes,
the authors write.
Stuebe speculates that breastfeeding
might reduce diabetes risk because of its lasting beneficial
effect on insulin resistance and glucose tolerance. She
notes that women burn about 500 calories a day breastfeeding
— the same as running 4 or 5 miles.
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