The longer a woman with gestational, or pregnancy-related, diabetes breastfeeds her infant, the lower her risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life, suggests an analysis by researchers at the National Institutes of Health and other institutions. The study was conducted by Cuilin Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., of NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), and colleagues. It appears in Diabetes Care.
In addition to health risks for mothers and babies, gestational diabetes increases the risk for type 2 diabetes 10 to 20 years after pregnancy. Type 2 diabetes increases the risk for heart disease, stroke and other health problems.
The researchers analyzed data from the Nurses’ Health Study II , a long-term study of risk factors for chronic diseases in women. Of more than 4,000 women in the study who had gestational diabetes, 873 developed type 2 diabetes over the course of 25 years. Compared to women with gestational diabetes who had not breastfed, those who breastfed for six to 12 months were 9% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, those who breastfed for one to two years were 15% less likely, and those who breastfed for more than two years were 27% less likely.
The researchers suggested that clinicians may want to encourage patients with gestational diabetes to breastfeed if they are able to, to potentially reduce their type 2 diabetes risk.
The analysis was funded by NICHD with additional support from NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences.
The study’s senior author, Cuilin Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., of the NICHD Epidemiology Branch, is available for comment.
Ley, SH. Lactation duration and long-term risk for incident type 2 diabetes in women with a history of gestational diabetes mellitus. Diabetes Care. 2019. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc19-2237 .
About the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD): NICHD leads research and training to understand human development, improve reproductive health, enhance the lives of children and adolescents, and optimize abilities for all. For more information, visit https://www.nichd.nih.gov.
About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit https://www.nih.gov.