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Breastfeeding by Diabetic Moms Cuts Babies’ Obesity Risk

Experts Say Breastfeeding Also Benefits Moms by Helping Them Recover From Gestational Diabetes
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Feb. 25, 2011 -- Breastfeeding for six months or more may reduce the risk that babies born to diabetic mothers become obese later in life, a new study shows.

“This is perhaps the first study to show that, indeed, if these babies are breastfed as recommended, or more, then their increased risk of obesity is reduced to levels seen in offspring not exposed to diabetes during pregnancy,” says study researcher Dana Dabelea, MD, PhD, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado, Denver.

Other experts hailed the study, which is published in Diabetes Care, as well-designed and important.

“I really think they did an excellent job,” says Kathleen Marinelli, MD, director of lactation support services at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford and member of the United States Breastfeeding Committee. “It was very clever the way they defined their breast milk intake or their exclusivity. ... A sticking point in all studies on breastfeeding, is ‘How do you define how much breast milk the baby actually got?’ And I thought this was very cleverly done and well done.”

“They thought they might see a big difference between those babies whose mothers did not have diabetes and those babies whose mothers did have diabetes in terms of obesity protection down the road, depending on how much breast milk they got,” says Marinelli, who was not involved in the study. “And if they got more than six months of breast milk, they didn’t. And that’s actually a good thing, because it shows that you can sort of wipe out that negative potential effect on the baby, if you breastfeed long enough.”

And experts say the metabolic benefits of breastfeeding extend to mom, too, by helping her recover from gestational diabetes and protecting her against developing diabetes again later in life.

Maternal Diabetes and Childhood Obesity

In the womb, babies of mothers who have diabetes are exposed to more glucose and free fatty acids than babies whose mothers don’t have diabetes.

“So these fetuses are overnourished, even before the babies are born, so that makes them more heavy at birth, but also they have a higher percent of fat mass, not just a higher birth weight at birth,” Dabelea tells WebMD.

“Now the interesting question is why do these effects persist over the life course? And here is where we don’t quite know everything,” Dabelea says, “But one of the proposed mechanisms is that since these offspring are overnourished in utero, this hypernutrition changes their satiety point so they only feel full when they’re overfed.”

“And they tend to consume increased amounts of food throughout their life because their satiety point has been altered, permanently,” she adds.

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