Benefits of Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding has always been a passion of mine. I can go on and on (and have many times) about the benefits of breastfeeding not only for babies but also for moms! After breastfeeding all three of our children until they self-weaned well after a year, I have seen many advantages that they (and I!) have been afforded because of this choice. You may not need to breastfeed a full year to achieve many benefits. Doctors believe that 6 months or longer of exclusive breast milk offers the best benefits to you and baby but that ANY AMOUNT of breastfeeding is great and will provide health benefits!

Some of the many benefits of breastfeeding include: faster weight loss for the post-partum mother, decreased risk of allergies and asthma for baby, as well as a better immune system for baby leading to fewer illnesses such as ear infections. But did you know that breastfeeding also plays a role in diabetes? Whether you have diabetes, have a history of gestational diabetes, or have a family history of diabetes, breastfeeding can be a benefit to you and your infant’s health.

Mothers with diabetes

Women with diabetes can especially benefit from breastfeeding as the body reacts the same way it would during exercise. "Each time the body makes milk, a mom’s glucose level will drop."1 This also means that women must be meticulous about monitoring blood sugar levels as they may experience a low after a feeding. Mothers will also experience post-partum weight loss which can lead to better blood glucose control.

Mothers with gestational diabetes

All women are at risk for developing gestational diabetes during pregnancy. Risk factors such as a family history of type 2 diabetes, a previous pregnancy with gestational diabetes, and obesity may make it more likely. Exclusive breastfeeding, which means the baby did not receive supplemental formula, can decrease the risk of the mother having type 2 diabetes if she had a history of gestational diabetes.1 Meaning even if you had gestational diabetes during your pregnancy, you still have the chance to decrease your risk of developing diabetes later in life if you breastfeed! “Though features of gestational diabetes, such as elevated blood glucose, insulin resistance, and increased insulin output, go away after birth, babies exposed to gestational diabetes in the womb are more likely to have type 2 diabetes and/or obesity later in life.”1

Mothers with a family history of diabetes

You may be past your child-bearing years but most likely you have a family member that could benefit from education on these risks. By hearing personal stories about the difficulty of controlling diabetes or birthing a large baby due to gestational diabetes, women can better understand the risks involved and may be more likely to be proactive in decreasing their own risk. Be sure to share that obtaining a healthy weight prior to pregnancy as well as breastfeeding are both great steps to take towards decreasing diabetes risk for mother and baby!

“Lactation is a natural biological process with the enormous potential to provide long-term benefits to maternal health, but has been underappreciated as a potential key strategy for early primary prevention of metabolic diseases in women across the childbearing years and beyond.”2

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