Woman with baby

Women with gestational diabetes who breastfeed are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes in later life, researchers have said.

A team from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) said they have found a direct link between breastfeeding and a lowered type 2 diabetes risk.

The trial involved studying health data from more than 4,000 women who had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, a condition that only occurs during pregnancy.

Gestational diabetes is characterised by high blood sugars and occurs in approximately 1 in 20 pregnancies. Women who develop the condition are then shown to be at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes in later life.

Of that number, 873 mothers went on to receive a type 2 diabetes diagnosis up to 25 years after they gave birth.

The researchers compared the women with gestational diabetes who had not breastfed their children, to those who had nursed their babies for between six to 12 months and found they were 9% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

The risk of being diagnosed was 15% lower among those who breastfed for between one to two years. Mothers who continued to breastfeed for more than two years, were 27% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes in later life.

The researchers concluded: “Longer duration of lactation is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and a favourable glucose metabolic biomarker profile among women with a history of gestational diabetes.

“The underlying mechanisms and impact on diabetes complications, morbidity, and mortality remain to be determined.”

Medical circumstances and personal preference can influence the decision to breastfeed, so it is not an option available to all new mothers. To reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes people can implement lifestyle changes such as maintaining a balanced diet, a healthy BMI and regular exercise.

The findings have been published in the Diabetes Care journal.

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