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More Evidence That Breastfeeding Is Good for Mom's Health

A new study shows that breastfeeding for even one month lowers mom’s lifetime risk for Type 2 diabetes. Previous research has shown a correlation between breastfeeding and reduced diabetes in mothers, this study confirms and extends those findings.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburg looked at data from over 2000 women in Kasier Permenente’s healthcare system aged 40-78. They found that women who gave birth but did not breastfeed were twice as likely to develop Type 2 diabetes compared with women who breastfed or never gave birth.

The reduction of diabetes risk may be related to the way breastfeeding women lose weight. Breastfeeding can help women lose “visceral” fat– the kind stored around the stomach and organs, and the hardest to lose. But it could also be that lactation improves glucose metabolism– diabetic women usually require less insulin when they are breastfeeding.

Though breastfeeding is often talked about in terms of benefits for the baby- including reduced risk for obesity, allergies, asthma and infections– there are benefits for the mother, too. Breastfeeding is associated with reduced reproductive cancers, arthritis, heart disease. Though the studies supporting these claims show benefits only for mothers who breastfeed for more than several months. (You can read more about these benefits here.)

Breastfeeding rates in America are high early on– most women give it a try. But they drop off quickly.  “While breastfeeding is widely acknowledged to benefit infant health, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers exclusively breastfeed their infants for the first six months . . . only 14% of U.S. mothers were able to follow this recommendation,” write the authors of the study.

Making pumping universally accessible in the workplace, with breaks and designated areas for new mothers, could help. But as US News points out: “ethnic and economic obstacles also must be surmounted. Just 54 percent of African-American mothers attempt to breast-feed compared to 74 percent of white mothers and 80 percent of Hispanic mothers, according to a recent CDC survey. And women living below the poverty line are far less likely to breast-feed than their richer counterparts, probably because they don’t get the support they need to both nurse and provide for their families.”

I would also argue that since most people of our generation were bottle-fed by our own mothers, there’s a level of unfamiliarity that maybe even the most stronglyworded health recommendations can’t reverse. Squeamishness about functional breasts is still going strong in this country. And, despite lots of literature on the benefits of feeding, not all doctors are up to speed. I was told by two different doctors that it’s really only important to breastfeed right in the beginning– one told me all I had to do was get the baby colostrum. Sometimes early bottle feeding or bad information can lead to a reduced supply.

Breastfeeding is often very hard in the beginning–I can see why mothers might give up week three instead of week ten when nursing is running smoothly. Surmounting those early hurdles requires support on lots of levels– social, emotional and physical. If the AAP’s recommendation about breastfeeding isn’t enough—and can, in fact, just end up making women feel guilty if they don’t breastfeeding for the full six months—what else could help? What would have made breastfeeding easier for you? And for those of you who are pregnant, what do you anticipate will be the biggest hurdles when it comes to breastfeeding?

photo: CRZ/flickr

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