Can breastfeeding help prevent diabetes?
June 29, 2017
As an endocrinologist, I know that diabetes can be a heavy burden to carry for the rest of your life. I see it in my patients every day. That’s why I’ve directed my research toward preventing the development of diabetes in women who are at high risk for the disease because they had gestational diabetes. I’m posing this basic but far-reaching question: What can women do after pregnancy to be their healthiest?
New Understanding of BreastfeedingMy research is showing that breastfeeding could play a major role in post-pregnancy health. We’ve known for a number of years that breastfeeding has many benefits for babies, but now we’re learning that it could be doing something good for mothers, too. I believe that breastfeeding changes the quality of fat in a woman’s body, making it healthier and more efficient.
Let me explain. We all have a significant amount of fat in our bodies. When our fat amount becomes too high, the fat itself loses the ability to do its job, which is to provide energy, absorb certain nutrients, and maintain core body temperature. When we have too much fat, our body runs out of allotted room to store it and the extra fat ends up in places it shouldn’t be, such as the heart or liver, and causes diabetes and other metabolic problems.
Nearly all pregnant women gain weight. What happens to that fat in the postpartum period (immediately following pregnancy) could have long-term consequences for a new mom. When she breastfeeds, she is potentially changing the quality of the fat in her body so that the fat can perform how it’s supposed to.
We’ve known for some time that breastfeeding burns a lot of calories, and now we believe it has an effect on fat, too. But this doesn’t mean every woman will lose weight when she breastfeeds. Breastfeeding takes a lot of work, so some women lose weight, but others gain weight because they eat more to keep up their energy. Still others see no change in weight. I’m focused more on the quality of their fat and how it relates to their risk for diabetes.
Through my preliminary findings, I feel it’s safe to say that breastfeeding is like putting money in the bank. It’s something you can do “now” that will benefit you later. But only more research will help us understand this more thoroughly.
We’re Recruiting Volunteers
To prove my theory, I’m engaged in a clinical trial sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and the American Diabetes Association. Right now, I’m specifically looking for women who are pregnant and have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes or who have recently delivered. Study visits will take place between five and 16 weeks postpartum, and this particular study will end in December.