Breastfeeding and Type 2 Diabetes in Moms

by Katie Black


We talk a lot about the benefits of breastfeeding for babies, but there’s a ton of benefits for moms too! Researchers have just started scratching the surface on mom and baby health, but what they’re discovering is very exciting, especially when it comes to chronic diseases. 

Type 2 diabetes is steadily on the rise, alongside rising obesity rates around the world. In fact, the number of people who have diabetes (most have type 2) is projected to increase from 366 million in 2011 to 552 million by 2030. That’s more than a 50% increase while the overall population is estimated to grow only by 21% from 2011 to 2030. 

As you may already know, diabetes is a condition that affects the way your body processes food. When your body digests food, it turns it into sugar (glucose) which then goes into your bloodstream. This tells your pancreas to start making insulin which makes it so your cells can use the blood sugar for energy. But when you have diabetes, you don’t make enough insulin on your own (or your body doesn’t respond to it) which leads to too much blood sugar staying in your bloodstream. This can hurt your overall health and lead to heart disease, kidney disease, and vision loss. 

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder that stops your body from making insulin and is usually found in childhood, while type 2 is usually diagnosed in adults because their body is not using insulin well (cases of type 2 diabetes are growing in children and teens). Since it’s such a serious and disruptive disease, it makes sense that there are a lot of people dedicated to understanding it and preventing new cases as much as possible. 

In a systematic review published by Elsevier looking at long term studies on breastfeeding and maternal type 2 diabetes, researchers were trying to see if there’s a link between the two. They included six studies that had 10,842 cases of type 2 diabetes among 273,961 participants. 

What they found (in scientific terms!) was a statistically significant inverse association between breastfeeding and the maternal risk of type 2 diabetes. 

Translation: there’s a strong link between breastfeeding and lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. On top of that, longer time spent breastfeeding meant even lower risk of developing the disease. 

They found that moms who breastfed the longest compared to a mom who didn’t at all equaled 32% less risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 

The researchers also reported that the lowered chance seems to be independent of other risk factors, like BMI, smoking, alcohol use, physical activity, education, income, and a history of diabetes. 

It’s not super clear yet why this link exists, but the study listed a few possible reasons to explain it: 

Firstly, breastfeeding makes moms' metabolism work extra hard with 400–600 calories a day needed for milk production during the first six months of exclusive breastfeeding. This happens through a mom’s diet and an additional 170 calories a day taken from fat stores and/or less movement. Breastfeeding has been linked to lower postpartum weight gain and less abdominal obesity (fat that builds up deep in the abdomen and increases risk of insulin resistance) which could play a part in lower diabetes risk. 

Also, breastfeeding has been shown to increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin and boost glucose tolerance in both humans and animals. 

While more research is needed to make any definite conclusions, the review is definitely encouraging, especially since reducing risk wherever possible is really important right now. So if you’re concerned about type 2 diabetes and are considering or already breastfeeding, it’s one more thing you can add to the long list of benefits. 

One of the most common worries breastfeeding moms have is whether their milk has enough nutrients and this can lead to stopping breastfeeding early. At Lactation Lab we take the guesswork out of what’s in your milk so you can breastfeed confidently, knowing it is enough for your family. You can order your own test here. And to stay up to date on the latest breastfeeding research and news, consider signing up for our newsletter and receive 10% off your first order. 


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