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Breastfeeding May Lower Moms' Diabetes Risk

Study Shows Breastfeeding for 1 Month May Help Prevent Diabetes
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Breastfeeding and Diabetes: A Closer Look continued...

Overweight and obesity were common among the participants, with 68% having a body mass index of 25 or more, considered outside the healthy weight range.

The link held, Schwarz says, even after controlling for factors such as weight, physical activity, and family history of diabetes.

While one month of breastfeeding appears to make a difference, Schwarz says even longer is better. "Previous studies have shown the longer the mom breastfeeds, the more benefit for your body."

Many experts recommend exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continuing [supplemented by food] for a year," she says. "Clearly it's hard for moms to always negotiate breastfeeding given the constraints of their work environment," she tells WebMD.

Breastfeeding and Diabetes: Explaining the Link

The diabetes-breastfeeding link is probably explained by belly fat, Schwarz says. Moms who don't breastfeed, as they get older, may have more belly fat, she says, as breastfeeding helps new mothers take off weight. "Belly fat increases the risk of diabetes as you get older."

Some research has shown that breastfeeding may increase sensitivity to insulin, in turn reducing diabetes risk. But that may be short-term -- while the breastfeeding is occurring, Schwarz says. "The real problem may be the belly fat."

Second Opinion

The finding that breastfeeding lowers the risk of diabetes later isn't surprising at all, says Kimberly D. Gregory, MD, MPH, vice-chair of Women's Healthcare Quality and Performance Improvement at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, who reviewed the study findings for WebMD.

She often counsels women who get gestational diabetes (occurring during pregnancy) that they are at risk for later getting type 2 diabetes and suggests they breastfeed.

The new findings, Gregory tells WebMD, will probably inspire her to add to the advice she gives moms-to-be about the benefits of breastfeeding. She often focuses on the benefits to the baby during that discussion, says Gregory, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California Los Angeles School of Public Health.

But with the new research, she says, she may expand on that discussion. "I think it would make me say, 'Oh by the way, breastfeeding would also help you lose your weight faster and could possibly decrease your likelihood of becoming diabetic later in life."

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