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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

Breastfeeding Combats Obesity

For the study, Dabelea and her colleagues compared the fat distribution, height, waist measurements, and body mass index (BMI) of 89 children born to diabetic mothers to those of 379 children who had not been exposed to diabetes in utero. The average age of the children in the study was 10.

Mothers were asked about whether they breastfed their babies or used formula. They were also asked how long they breastfed and when they introduced solid foods and other beverages.

Because so many moms mixed breast milk and formula feedings, the researchers developed a sliding scale, between 0 and 1, that they used to statistically weight each child’s exposure to breast milk.

The researchers found that among those children who were exposed to diabetes in the womb, those who were breastfed for less than six months had significantly higher BMIs, had thicker waists, and stored more fat around their midsections compared to children who were breastfed for more than six months.

What’s more, when they compared children who were exposed to diabetes to those who weren’t, they only saw significant differences in those who were breastfed for less than six months. The groups looked nearly the same when they were breastfed for six months or more, indicating that the disadvantage conveyed by being exposed to diabetes had been wiped out.

Breastfeeding May Protect Mother and Infant

“What we wanted to do was look at what we would consider a high-risk group and to see if breastfeeding had an impact on obesity in that setting,” says study researcher Stephen Daniels, MD, PhD, pediatrician-in-chief at Children’s Hospital in Denver. “And what we found, in fact, is that breastfeeding does seem to be protective.”

“Certainly all women should be breastfeeding, but women who have diabetes and who have babies that are exposed to diabetes in utero should be especially aware that breastfeeding could have an important benefit to their child over time,” Daniels tells WebMD.

And other research suggests that the benefits may extend to mom, as well.

“If a mother has gestational diabetes and she nurses her baby, she lowers her risk for developing diabetes down the road,” Marinelli says. “Real diabetes, not just diabetes during the pregnancy, so that’s her benefit. If she breastfeeds her baby, she lowers her baby’s risk for becoming obese. And she lowers her baby’s risk for not only becoming obese, but for developing diabetes, because there is a genetic component to diabetes so if you’re born to a parent who has diabetes, you are at risk for getting diabetes. But if you’re breastfed, that risk is lowered.”

The important thing to remember, Marinelli notes, is that the benefits appear to be related to how long a mom continues; the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that women exclusively breastfeed for six months and continue breastfeeding for at least a year after their babies are born.

“The longer you do it, the more benefit you accrue,” she says.

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