Diabetes risk drops for women who breastfed their children

April 1, 2010

There's good news on the diabetes front for women who are of middle age and older, if they breastfed their children.

There’s good news for women who are middle aged and older if they breastfed their children. The chances of them developing type 2 diabetes compared with those who bottle-fed is lower, a new study published online on March 23 in Diabetes Care shows.

In this study of 53,726 women age 45 years old and older, the chances of these women having diabetes whether they had children or were childless were very similar. However, for women with children, every year of breastfeeding was connected to a 14% reduced diabetes risk.

Of 5,700 women without children, 274 (approximately 5%) were diagnosed with diabetes. Likewise, diabetes was noted in 5% of the more than 25,000 women who breastfed each child for more than 3 months.

Contrast those figures to those of the 6,171 women who had children but never breastfed. A total of 591 (9.5%) reported that they had diabetes. Of the 15,400 women who breastfed each child for 3 months or less, just under 7% said they had diabetes.

Although similar studies of the association between diabetes and breastfeeding have been conducted, it is the first time that women who were childless were included in the study. Compared with this group of women, women with children who did not breastfeed had a 50% greater chance of having type 2 diabetes. The risk of diabetes was not high among women who breastfed each child for at least 3 months.

Even after accounting for factors that could affect the likelihood of developing diabetes, such as age, weight, family history, exercise, education, and income levels, researchers noted that breastfeeding itself remained linked with the odds of having diabetes.

Researchers speculated that the reason behind breastfeeding’s positive effect on the risk of developing diabetes may be linked to hormonal changes that are associated with nursing a child, as these changes may affect how the woman’s body handles blood sugar. The role of breastfeeding in diabetes is significant because it is a factor women control.