Researchers in the US analysed data from women who enrolled in a heart health study more than 30 years ago, and whose lifestyles and health were monitored throughout that time.
They found that those who had breastfed their children for at least six months were 47 per cent less likely to have developed type 2 diabetes during the three decades compared to mothers who did not breastfeed.
Women who breastfed for fewer than six months also lowered their risk by 25 per cent.
Scientists believe that there are good biological reasons why breastfeeding may protect against diabetes. For example, it is known to boost hormones which control blood insulin levels and lower blood sugar. It can also help new mothers lose pregnancy weight.
“We found a very strong association between breastfeeding duration and lower risk of developing diabetes, even after accounting for all possible confounding risk factors,” said lead author Dr Erica Gunderson, senior research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in California.
“The incidence of diabetes decreased in a graded manner as breastfeeding duration increased, regardless of race, gestational diabetes, lifestyle behaviours, body size, and other metabolic risk factors measured before pregnancy, implying the possibility that the underlying mechanism may be biological.”
Research has found that breastfed babies have fewer health problems, such as chest infections, and are less likely to develop health problems such as diabetes, or become obese as they get older.
“We have known for a long time that breastfeeding has many benefits both for mothers and babies, however, previous evidence showed only weak effects on chronic disease in women,” said Dr Tracy Flanagan, MD, director of women’s health for Kaiser Permanente.
“Now we see much stronger protection from this new study showing that mothers who breastfeed for months after their delivery, may be reducing their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to one half as they get older.
“This is yet another reason that doctors, nurses, and hospitals as well as policymakers should support women and their families to breastfeed as long as possible.”
Cancer charities also said it was wise to breastfeed for at least six months.
World Cancer Research Fund’s Senior Science Programme Manager Susannah Brown, said: “We also recommend exclusively breastfeeding your baby for six months before adding other liquids and foods.
“Breastfed babies are also less likely to become overweight later in life, reducing their risk of developing cancer in the future as well.”
The research was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
Source: The Telegraph