It's no surprise that breastfeeding has a long list of health benefits for both babies and mothers. But it seems the length of time a mother breastfeeds her child might actually offer significant results for women in particular. A new study found that breastfeeding for longer periods has incredible health benefits for women, and it could be a game-changer.
A 30-year study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that breastfeeding for at least six months or longer could significantly decrease a mother's risk of developing diabetes. Researchers from Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, California, looked at 1,283 mothers and babies, with none of the mothers experiencing diabetes at the outset. Over the next 25 years, only 182 of the women in the study developed diabetes. Women who breastfed for at least six months, the length of time most pediatricians recommend, were 48 percent less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. Mothers who nursed for even longer, over a year, were 47 percent less likely to develop diabetes. Approximately 34 percent of the mothers, whose average age was 24 at the outset of the study, breastfed their babies for six months, while 19 percent breastfed until their infant was one year or more. There were only 7 cases of diabetes reported for every 1,000 mothers in the study; significantly less than 10 of every 1,000 mothers who didn't breastfeed at all.
Researchers adjusted for other factors which could contribute to the development of diabetes, like a lack of physical activity, smoking, and diet concerns. Lead author of the study Erica Gunderson told Global News:
There could be greater health benefits for women from breastfeeding than previously recognized.
So what is it about breastfeeding for longer periods of time that could contribute to a lower risk of diabetes? Gunderson explained to The New York Times that several factors could be in play; lactating women have lower circulating glucose, while lactation could also help the cells that produce insulin:
We’ve known for a long time that breast-feeding has major benefits for child health. The specific benefits for women’s health have been less recognized.
Knowing the benefits of long-term breastfeeding doesn't necessarily help women who don't have access to a strong support system. After all, breastfeeding might be a beautiful experience for some, but it can also be time-consuming, laborious, and particularly difficult for women in the workplace. Lucy Martinez Sullivan, executive director of 1,000 Days and a leading global expert on maternal and child health, tells Romper women need very specific support in order to breastfeed for extended periods and receive all the benefits.
Breastfeeding is not just about babies and babies' health, it's about mothers too. This study provides more evidence that adds fuel to the fire that this is about women's health. Breastfeeding is so important to a woman's health and her physiology at large.
Martinez Sullivan went on to note the global ramifications of the study:
When we look at the trends on the increase in diabetes throughout the world, particularly in economically-depressed countries, to see that something as accessible as breastfeeding could slow the epidemic of diabetes is wonderful news.
Of course, breastfeeding for longer stretches has many other benefits as well, as Martinez Sullivan tells Romper:
It's important to also note that breastfeeding can protect against breast cancer, ovarian cancer, as well as cardiovascular disease. Data has shown that, if women were supported to breastfeed for the recommended six months, a full 20,000 women's lives per year could be saved. We need to support breastfeeding, offer paid parental leave and support public breastfeeding to prevent these diseases.
Breastfeeding doesn't just help with the physical issues, but possible mental issues as well. Previous studies have also pointed to breastfeeding for longer stretches at a time resulting in reduced instances of depression, which is good news for mothers who might struggle with post-partum depression.
At the end of the day breastfeeding is a women's rights issue. If something as natural as breastfeeding can prevent so many diseases in women, it needs to be celebrated, encouraged, and most of all, supported.
Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:
Watch full episodes of Romper's Doula Diaries on Facebook Watch.