WebMD Medical News
Louise Chang, MD
Dec. 3, 2009 -- There is more evidence that breastfeeding benefits moms as
well as their babies.
Breastfeeding was shown to significantly lower a woman’s risk for developing
metabolic syndrome in a study reported today by researchers with Kaiser
The longer the women in the study breastfed, the more protection they seemed
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors linked to both diabetes and
heart disease, including elevated blood pressure, insulin resistance, and belly
The new study is one of the most rigorously designed trials ever to explore
the impact of breastfeeding on such risk factors.
Researchers examined data on 704 women who were followed for two decades,
starting before their first pregnancy.
Because the women were enrolled in a larger heart disease risk study, the
researchers had information on wide range of health and lifestyle factors. None
of the women had metabolic syndrome at enrollment, but 120 developed the
condition during the 20 years of follow-up.
In the population as a whole, breastfeeding for longer than nine months was
associated with a 56% reduction in risk for developing metabolic syndrome
during the follow-up period.
In women who developed gestational diabetes during one or more pregnancies,
the risk reduction was 86%.
Gestational diabetes is a major predictor of type 2 diabetes. Women who
develop diabetes during pregnancy have a fourfold greater risk for developing
type 2 diabetes, lead researcher Erica P. Gunderson, PhD, tells WebMD.
“Our study is the first to examine lactation and metabolic syndrome in women
with this risk factor,” she says. “Our findings indicate that this very
vulnerable group may benefit from breastfeeding.”
Breastfeeding for as little as a month or two appeared to convey some
benefit, but not as much as longer lactation.
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and will be
published in the February, 2010, issue of the journal Diabetes.
There is some evidence that women who breastfeed lose pregnancy weight
quicker and that they lead healthier lifestyles than new mothers who do not
The Kaiser researchers adjusted for lifestyle factors such as exercise level
and smoking in their study.
And Gunderson says overall weight differences did not explain the protection
breastfeeding appeared to convey in this study.
But there is a suggestion that breastfeeding is specifically linked to a
reduction in belly fat. Central obesity, or belly fat, and insulin resistance
are two important risk factors for metabolic syndrome.
“Belly fat seemed to be disproportionably increased due to pregnancy, and
perhaps lactation helps women lose this abdominal fat,” she says. “This is
something we need to look at more closely.”
The study is not the first to suggest that women who breastfeed have a lower
risk for developing diabetes years later.
In 2005, researchers from Harvard Medical School came to the same conclusion
after analyzing data on 160,000 female nurses enrolled in two health
The research suggested that each year of breastfeeding is associated with a
15% reduction in diabetes risk within the next 15 years.
Lead researcher Alison M. Stuebe, MD, told WebMD at the time that a woman
with two children could potentially lower her risk for developing diabetes by
almost a third by following the advice of child health experts and
breastfeeding each child for a year.
SOURCES:Gunderson, E.P. Diabetes, February 2010.Erica P. Gunderson, PhD, Kaiser Permanente Division of Research,
Epidemiology and Prevention, Oakland, Calif.News release, Kaiser Permanente.WebMD Health News:
"Breastfeeding Moms Lower Diabetes Risk."
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