Women who breastfeed less likely to develop diabetes

US survey shows diabetes risk almost halved for women who breastfeed for six months

Siobhan Hourigan, national breastfeeding coordinator for the Health Service Executive said the evidence on the importance of breastfeeding for the health of babies, young children and mothers “has never been stronger.” Image: iStock

Siobhan Hourigan, national breastfeeding coordinator for the Health Service Executive said the evidence on the importance of breastfeeding for the health of babies, young children and mothers “has never been stronger.” Image: iStock

 

Women who breastfeed their babies for six months or longer can cut the risk of developing diabetes by almost half, new research by an American healthcare provider shows.

A long-term national tracking survey of 5,000 women in the United States found that those who breastfed for six months or more reduced their chances of developing type-2 diabetes, while women who breastfed for six months or less had a 25 per cent reduction in diabetes risk.

The study, the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study, or Cardia, was funded by the Maryland-based National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. It originally enrolled about 5,000 adults aged between 18 and 30 in 1985 and 1986 and monitored the women for the following three decades.

“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 Dr Erica Gunderson, a senior scientist with the research division of US healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente.

The study included 1,238 women who did not have diabetes when they enrolled in the long-term study. Each woman had at least one live birth over the next 30 years and was routinely screened for diabetes.

Participants also reported behaviour on their lifestyles such as diet and physical activity and the total amount of time they breastfed their children.

“We have known for a long time that breastfeeding has many benefits both for mothers and babies. However, previous evidence showed only weak effects on chronic disease in women,” said Dr Tracy Flanagan, director of women’s health for Kaiser Permanente in Northern California.

“This is yet another reason why doctors, nurses and hospitals as well as policymakers should support women and their families to breastfeed as long as possible.”

Evidence never stronger

The new findings support a growing body of evidence that breastfeeding provides protective benefits for a child, helping to prevent illness and infection and it helps protect mothers against ovarian and breast cancer.

Siobhan Hourigan, national breastfeeding coordinator for the Health Service Executive said that the evidence on the importance of breastfeeding for the health of babies, young children and mothers “has never been stronger.”

The World Health Organisation and the Department of Health recommend that babies are breastfed for the first six months and that breastfeeding continues from six months as new foods are introduced for up to two years and beyond.

Breastfeeding rates in Ireland are, however, among the lowest in the world.

A Health Service Executive survey last year found just 55 per cent of Irish babies were being breastfed by mothers by the time of the first visit by a public health nurse, usually within days of being discharged from hospital.

This compared with rates of 90 per cent in Australia and about 81 per cent in the UK and 79 per cent in the US.

Breastfeeding rates vary widely between urban and rural areas in Ireland, from 84.3 per cent in the Dublin southeast region to just 19.6 per cent in Donegal.

HSE figures have shown only a modest increase in breastfeeding rates in recent years.

“Every breastfeed makes a difference; every time a mother breastfeeds she is doing good for her child’s health and her health,” said Ms Hourigan.