So say researchers who studied data from a study of 1,390 women who were followed for 20 years, starting when they were 18-30 years old.
Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when people have at least three of the following traits:
- Large waist size: 40 inches or larger for men; 35 inches or larger for women
- High triglycerides: 150 mg/dL or higher or use of a cholesterol medicine
- Low HDL "good" cholesterol: Less than 40 mg/dL for men, less than 50 mg/dL for women, or use of a cholesterol medicine
- High blood pressure: 130/85 or greater, or use of a high blood pressure medicine
- High fasting glucose level: 100 mg/dL or higher
None of the women had metabolic syndrome when the study began in 1985-1986. When the study ended 20 years later, 704 of the women had had at least one baby, and 120 women had been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome was rarer among women who reported breastfeeding their babies. The longer they breastfed their babies during the first nine months after birth, the less likely they were to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome during the 20-year study.
The reason for that isn't clear, but the findings held regardless of the women's preconception measurements, body mass index (BMI), lifestyle, and socioeconomic factors. The results were stronger for women who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
"Women who had breastfed babies for longer than one month were less likely in subsequent years to develop the metabolic syndrome," Erica Gunderson, PhD, tells WebMD in an email. "An additional new finding from this study is that breastfeeding also conferred long-term health benefits for women with a history of gestational diabetes mellitus."
Gunderson's team presented their findings on June 6 in New Orleans at the American Diabetes Association's 69th annual Scientific Sessions meeting.