Best for baby AND for mom: Breastfeeding for at least 6 months reduces risk of diabetes and female cancers, according to study

Researchers healthcare company Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California found out that mothers who breastfeed for six months or more cut down their risk of incurring Type 2 diabetes by 47 percent. The results of this new study were published in the journal JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Internal Medicine.

The 30-year study involved observing 5,000 American women throughout the prime of their lives (including their reproductive period). Dr. Erica Gunderson, the lead author of the study and a senior research scientist with Kaiser Permanente, and her colleagues analyzed figures from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. The present study follows up on the CARDIA study 30 years after, which involved women between the ages of 18 and 30 when they signed up for the survey in 1985.

“We found a very strong association between breastfeeding duration and lower risk of developing diabetes, even after accounting for all possible confounding factors. The incidence of diabetes decreased in a graded manner as breastfeeding duration increased, regardless of race, gestational diabetes, lifestyle behaviors, body size, and other metabolic risk factors measured before pregnancy, implying the possibility that the underlying mechanism may be biological,” Dr. Gunderson said.

According to the research, breastfeeding could change a woman’s hormone levels and decrease the chance of incurring diabetes and female cancers. (Related: Breastmilk…The gift that keeps on giving…Babies who were exclusively breastfed have less than half the risk of eczema as teenagers than those that were not.)


Meanwhile, women who breastfed for six months or less had a 25 percent reduction in their diabetes risk.

“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. Now we see much stronger protection from this new study showing that mothers who breastfeed for months after their delivery may be reducing their risk of developing type-2 diabetes by up to one-half as they get older,” Kaiser Permanente Northern California director of women’s health Dr. Tracy Flanagan said.

For her part, Dr. Gunderson added: “Unlike previous studies of breastfeeding, which relied on self-reporting of diabetes onset and began to follow older women later in life, we were able to follow women specifically during the childbearing period and screen them regularly for diabetes before and after pregnancies.”

According to a report from the World Health Organization, which was titled, “Infant and Young Child Feeding,” babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives, as babies who have done so are 8.6 times less likely to acquire diarrheal illness.

Another study from India showed that deaths from pneumonia and diarrhea amongst young children could be lessened by one-third if infants were exclusively breastfed for the first four months of their lives. Unfortunately, only 35 percent of babies from all over the world are exclusively breastfed for at least six months.

Some other studies have also shown that heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity are more common in the adult stage of children who have not been breastfed and that children who have been formula-fed on average have cognitive scores three points lower than those who have been breastfed.

Health experts are of the opinion that breastfeeding should continue well past the child’s sixth month. However, around this age, a child needs more energy than when he was younger, so introducing solid foods, on top of breastfeeding, becomes essential to his good nutrition. For best results, breastfeeding should continue up until two years of age, researchers say.

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