Gestational Diabetes: Breast Feeding May Protect You from Developing Diabetes in the Future

Sripathi R. Kethu, M.D. FACG.

By Sripathi R. Kethu, M.D. FACG.

Approximately 2-10% of pregnant women in US develop gestational diabetes. Risk factors include excess weight, being older than 25, a family or personal history of prediabetes, and non-white race (with more black, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian women developing the condition). About half of these women who had gestational diabetes develop type 2 diabetes within 5-10 years after the pregnancy.

Breast Feeding Lowers the Risk of Diabetes by 40%

Breast Feeding

According to previous research, lactation for >3 months in women with gestational diabetes is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. This protection can last up to 15 years after the pregnancy. However, it is not clear what is the exact reason for this protection.

Breast Feeding Leads to Metabolic Changes in Women

new study from Germany showed that breastfeeding for more than three months brings about long-term metabolic changes. The research findings have been published in the journal Diabetologia.

The researchers studied 197 women with gestational diabetes for an average of 3.6 years after pregnancy.

The participants in the study received a standardized glucose solution and gave a fasting blood sample beforehand, and during the test. The scientists then compared the samples on the basis of 156 different, known metabolites.

The study has shown that certain amino acid concentrations that are responsible for the development of type 2 diabetes have been altered in women who breastfed for more than 3 months.

“We observed that the metabolites in women who had breastfed for more than three months differed significantly from those who had had shorter lactation periods,” first-author Dr. Daniela Much from the Institute of Diabetes Research (IDF) at the Helmholtz Zentrum München. “Longer periods of lactation are linked to a change in the production of phospholipids and to lower concentrations of branched-chain amino acids in the mothers’ blood plasma.” This is interesting because the metabolites involved were linked in earlier studies with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, the authors say.

“The findings of our study provide new insights into disease-related metabolic pathways that are influenced by lactation and could thus be the underlying reason for the protective effect,” concludes Dr. Sandra Hummel, head of the Gestational Diabetes working group at the IDF, who led the study.

Breast Feeding Can Be challenging in Women Who Had Gestational Diabetes

Medical Daily reported on a study that was done which found that a women with a low milk supply was 2.5 times more likely to have gestational diabetes. This could be one of the challenges women with gestational diabetes face when attempting breastfeeding.

In the future, the scientists will look at ways of translating this knowledge into concrete treatment recommendations. “On average, women with gestational diabetes breastfeed less often and for shorter duration than non-diabetic mothers,” Hummel says. “The aim is now to develop strategies that will improve the breastfeeding behaviors of mothers with gestational diabetes.”

Breastfeeding should be encouraged among the women who had gestational diabetes because it offers a safe and feasible low-cost intervention to reduce the risk of subsequent diabetes in this high-risk population.


Sripathi R. Kethu, M.D. FACG.

Sripathi R. Kethu, M.D. FACG.

Dr Kethu is a practicing Gastroenterologist. He is a healthcare and real estate entrepreneur. He writes frequently on topics related to health care, healthy living, and physical fitness. He is the author of Amazon’s best-selling book, “The IBS Guide”. He is an avid marathon runner and is on track to finish his 100th marathon in 2024.

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