Breastfeeding May Protect Against Diabetes

Women with gestational diabetes found to breastfeed less often and for shorter duration.

A new study found an association between mothers who breastfeed and the ability of lactations to alter metabolomics signatures and protect against diabetes.

In Germany, about 4% of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes. Although blood sugar levels return to normal after delivery, 1 in 2 of the mothers end up developing type 2 diabetes within the next 10 years. In a prior study by the current researchers, breastfeeding for more than 3 months postpartum was found to have a protective effect that lasted for up to 15 years after gestational diabetes; however, researchers were unsure why lactation had this effect.

In the current study published in Diabetologia, researchers examined the potential role of metabolism in this protective effect. For the analyses, scientists examined nearly 200 women who developed gestational diabetes. On average, the women had given birth 3-and-a -half years earlier.

Participants were administered a standardized glucose solution, and were also given a fasting blood sample before and during the test. Next, researchers compared the samples on the basis of 156 different, known metabolites.

“We observed that the metabolites in women who had breastfed for more than 3 months differed significantly from those who had had shorter lactation periods,” said first study author Daniela Much. “Longer periods of lactation are linked to a change in the production of phospholipids and to lower concentrations of branched-chain amino acids in the mothers’ blood plasma.”

Authors noted that the metabolites involved in the study were previously linked to earlier studies with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

“The findings of our study provide new insights into disease-related metabolic pathways that are influenced by lactation and could thus be the underlying reason for the protective effect,” said lead study author Sandra Hummel.

Hummel added that breastfeeding could be a cost-effective intervention that aims to reduce the long-term risk of type 2 diabetes in women with gestational diabetes.

“On average, women with gestational diabetes breastfeed less often and for shorter duration than non-diabetic mothers,” Hummel said. “The aim is now to develop strategies that will improve the breastfeeding behaviors of mothers with gestational diabetes.”