The list of breastfeeding benefits for you just got a little longer with the latest study out of Kaiser Permanente. In 1985 and 1986 researchers enrolled 1238 women and followed them for 30 years to find risk factors for disease and identify trends in health habits. Over the next 30 years, each woman had at least one live birth and reported the amount of time they breastfed their infants. Other behaviors were also recorded, like diet and physical activity.
The big news here is that even after researchers controlled for diabetic risk like obesity, family history and lifestyle, breastfeeding still reduced the risk of diabetes by 47% for mothers that breastfed for 6 months or longer. Mothers who breastfed for 6 months or less had a 25% reduction in diabetes risk.
Researchers are beginning to understand the complex link between insulin, milk production and diabetes. Insulin seems to be involved in signaling our breasts to transition to milk making factories that manufacture massive amounts of proteins, fats and carbohydrates for nourishing the newborn baby from a relatively quiet collection of breast tissue.
Diabetes can be a devastating disease. It can lead to blindness, amputations, heart disease and many other problems. Diabetes happens when the cells in our bodies can’t use the insulin our pancreas produces. So the sugars from the food we eat accumulate in our blood, unusable by the cells that need it. Insulin is the key that unlocks the cell so glucose can get in and fuel our body cells. When cells ignore insulin (become resistant) sugar builds up in the blood and diabetes occurs.
Researchers theorize breastfeeding reprograms our cells to pay attention to insulin as a signal to regulate milk supply. Our cells continue to be sensitive, not resistant, to insulin throughout our lives if breastfeeding has given the signal during lactation.