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Baby Development – Breastfeeding Protects Women from Metabolic Syndrome, a Diabetes and Heart Disease Predictor

Posted Dec 14 2009 8:21pm
By Colleen Hurley, RD, Certified Kid’s Nutrition Specialist

 If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a bunch: breastfeeding provides numerous health benefits to both  baby and mother.  Breast milk provides the most optimal mix of nutrients along with immune boosting antibodies giving babies a healthy start and can be a predictor of health status when baby grows up.  When it comes to mothers, breastfeeding is equally impactful on mom’s future health status as a recent study found that it can protect women from metabolic syndrome. 

 Metabolic syndrome is the name given to a group of risk factors often related to overweight and obesity that increase risk of developing heart disease, stroke, or diabetes.  The term “metabolic” refers to the body’s normal biochemical processes and metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors that typically appear together such as high triglyceride levels and elevated fasting blood glucose levels.  Metabolic syndrome affects 18 to 37% of women in the United States around between the ages of 20-59 leaving women of child bearing age particularly susceptible.

 The Kaiser Permanente study found that breastfeeding lowers metabolic syndrome risk by 39 to 56% for women without gestational diabetes, and 44 to 86% lower risk for women with gestational diabetes. The variance in risk pregnancylowering percentage was largely due to breastfeeding duration, and researchers looked at duration ranges from 0 or 1 month lactation up to 9 months.

 This 20 year prospective study was funded by the National Institutes for Health (NIH) was the first to examine all components of metabolic syndrome both before and after pregnancy as well as after weaning.  Previous studies have found that lactating women had better blood glucose and lipid levels than their non-lactating counterparts. However, previous studies did not reveal as strong of a protective association between breastfeeding and the presence of metabolic syndrome in middle aged women.  Study participants included  women who were between the ages of 18 and 30 when the study began, whom had never given birth, and were free of metabolic syndrome before their pregnancies.  Of the 704 women in the study, 120 new cases of metabolic syndrome appeared during the 20 year follow up.

 Study authors explain that much more research is needed to illustrate the mechanism by which lactation influences cardiovascular disease or diabetes risk.  Interestingly, a different study from just a few months ago found that childbearing alone increases risk of developing metabolic syndrome noting that pregnancy can have lasting, adverse physiologic effects.  That may seem like staggering news for new moms or moms-to-be but at least now there is evidence that breastfeeding can help counteract those risks.

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