We often hear of the myriad of benefits a baby gets from breastfeeding and breastmilk. These range from the antibodies and immune enhancing properties provided by colostrum, the changing but tailored macronutrient composition of breastmilk as an infant grows, to the reduction of infant mortality and a quicker recovery during illness for infants exclusively breastfed.
But what about for mothers? The list of benefits is just as impressive. Although more studies are needed, current research is showing that mothers with gestational diabetes who breastfeed tend to have better blood glucose control, and likely longer term benefits such as a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, a reduced risk of metabolic syndrome and more long-term continued function of the pancreas in insulin production. The improved glucose control seems to come via many routes such as better glucose utilization for milk production and increased insulin secretion and pancreatic beta cell mass caused by the hormone prolactin which increases through lactation. Other benefits of breastfeeding for mothers include better cardiometabolic profiles, improved blood pressure levels, quicker contraction of the uterus postpartum and reduced ovarian and breast cancer risks.
From personal experience, this seems to be true. For my first pregnancy I had more severe gestational diabetes, requiring blood glucose checks 4 times a day, and relatively strict diet control to maintain good blood glucose levels. However, I subsequently breastfed my firstborn for 15 months. When it came time for my oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) during my second pregnancy, I was pleasantly surprised to see the results showing I had only borderline gestational diabetes. The doctor advised me that I only needed to check my glucose level once every day or so! As a result I had a much more relaxing second pregnancy and did not need to monitor everything I ate so closely, as my blood glucose levels staying mostly within range. So mothers, breastfeed for your own health!
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- Rabin RC. Breast-Feeding Is Good for Mothers, Not Just Babies, Studies Suggest. The New York Times. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/11/23/breast-feeding-is-good-for-mothers-not-just-babies/. November 23, 2015. Accessed May 15, 2016.
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