A new study recently published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine revealed that women with a diagnosis of gestational diabetes can benefit from breastfeeding their infants. The study is entitled “Lactation and Progression to Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus After Gestational Diabetes Mellitus: A Prospective Cohort Study” and was led by researchers at Kaiser Permanente.
Gestational diabetes mellitus is defined as high blood glucose levels during pregnancy. The condition is diagnosed in 5 to 9% of all pregnant women in the United States – around 250,000 women every year. Women who develop gestational diabetes are estimated to have an up to seven times higher likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes within several years after the pregnancy. Breastfeeding is a recommended practice for women with gestational diabetes as lactation improves glucose metabolism, however, studies on the impact of breastfeeding on diabetes development later in life have yielded inconsistent results.
In the study, researchers investigated the effects of breastfeeding in 1,035 women with gestational diabetes who enrolled in the Study of Women, Infant Feeding and Type 2 Diabetes After GDM [gestational diabetes mellitus] Pregnancy (SWIFT trial, NCT01967030), between 2008 and 2011. The incidence of diabetes in this patient cohort was determined in a follow-up period of 2 years. Participants underwent glucose tolerance testing, anthropometry assessment, and interviews.
Researchers found that 11.8% of the cohort analyzed developed type 2 diabetes within two years after delivery. Women who exclusively fed their babies with formula at six to nine weeks of age were found have a more than twice likelihood of developing diabetes in comparison to women who exclusively breastfed their infants. The team also found that a greater lactation intensity was associated with a greater reduction in the two-year diabetes incidence, and that similarly, the increase in lactation duration (from less than two months to more than 10 months) was also linked to a greater decline in diabetes incidence.
“Both the level and duration of breastfeeding may offer unique benefits to women during the post-delivery period for protection against development of type 2 diabetes after gestational diabetes pregnancy,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Erica P. Gunderson in a press release.
The study considered several variables including maternal obesity, weight gain, race/ethnicity, lifestyle habits, delivery method, prenatal metabolism, infant size and birth outcomes. Upon interpreting the study results, taking into account all these variables, the main finding was the same: higher lactation intensity and longer duration are independently associated with a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes 2 years after a pregnancy with gestational diabetes.
“These findings highlight the importance of prioritizing breastfeeding education and support for women with gestational diabetes as part of early diabetes prevention efforts by health care systems,” concluded Dr. Gunderson.