Breastfeeding offers women long-term protection against metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cancer, and osteoporosis

We all know that breastfeeding has myriad benefits for the baby. Breastfeeding reduces babies’ risk of these diseases by these percentages:

  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS):  36%
  • Type 1 Diabetes:  19-27%
  • Type 2 Diabetes:  39%
  • Leukemia (acute lymphocytic) :  19%
  • Leukemia (acute myelogenous):  15%
  • Asthma:  27%
  • Gastrointestinal infections:  64%
  • Lower respiratory tract diseases:  72%
  • Atopic dermatitis:  42%
  • Acute otitis media:  50%

We know that breastfeeding has psychological benefits for the mother — and that there are physical benefits for the mother including the fact that it is easier for a breastfeeding mother to loose weight after the birth and breast feeding helps reduce the risk of some types of cancer by these percentages:

And breastfeeding reduces mothers’ risk of these diseases by:
Type 2 Diabetes:  4-12%
Ovarian cancer:  21%
Breast cancer:  28%
  • Ovarian cancer:  21%
  • Breast cancer:  28%

Other health benefits to mothers who breastfeed include reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, reduced risk of osteoporosis, faster return of the uterus to its prepregnant state, steady weight loss based on use of fat deposits laid down during pregnancy for early milk production, and slower return of menses which can aid in natural child spacing.

Now, new reports indicate another breast feeding benefit for the mother.

USA Today reports that “breastfeeding may offer mothers long-term protection against a condition linked to diabetes and heart disease.”

Analyzing data on “704 women in an ongoing, government-funded study of heart-disease risk factors,” a team from Kaiser Permanente’s Division of Research found that “the longer women breast-fed, the lower their chance of developing metabolic syndrome.”

Even breastfeeding “for just a couple of months can significantly lower a woman’s risk of metabolic syndrome,” HealthDay reported.

“In women who didn’t have pregnancy-related (gestational) diabetes, breast-feeding between one and five months lowered a woman’s risk of developing metabolic syndrome by 39 percent, while breast-feeding for the same duration lowered the risk of the syndrome by 44 percent in women with gestational diabetes.”

WebMD reported, “In the population as a whole, breastfeeding for longer than nine months was associated with a 56% reduction in risk for developing metabolic syndrome during the follow-up period.”

In comparison, “in women who developed gestational diabetes during one or more pregnancies, the risk reduction was 86%.”

The study, which “was funded by the National Institutes of Health,” will appear “in … the journal Diabetes.”

2 thoughts on “Breastfeeding offers women long-term protection against metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cancer, and osteoporosis

  • Andy Diestelkamp

    Dr. Walt,

    I appreciate the concern you have for the way “The Pill” potentially acts as an abortifacient. I have been aware of this possibility since I read Dr. Landrum Shettles book, Rites of Life back in 1985.

    In this article on the benefits of breastfeeding you mention, “slower return of menses which can aid in natural child spacing.” I was curious to know your reply to pro-life, pro-Pill people who argue that breastfeeding also may contribute to post-fertilization terminations of pregnancy by not having the womb properly prepared to receive the newly conceived child.

    Thanks for your insights on this.

  • Hi Andy,

    Thanks for the note. Of course, from an evidence-based viewpoint, I do not think you can be pro-life and pro-pill. Why?

    I think (and have published on the fact that) “the available evidence for the postfertilization effects of oral contraceptives and concludes that good evidence exists to support the hypothesis that the effectiveness of oral contraceptives depends to some degree on postfertilization effects.” (http://archfami.ama-assn.org/cgi/reprint/9/2/126)

    I’m not aware of published data in the peer-reviewed medical literature that refute this.

    However, I am aware that some Christian physician have published their OPINION in the non-peer reviewed medical literature that the post-fertilization potential of the pill does not exist.

    As to your question, let me begin by stating that the Bible teaches, unequivocally that pregnancy, from the point of conception, is a blessing from God.

    But that doesn’t mean anything that reduces the chances of pregnancy is a curse.

    For instance, breastfeeding affects hormones in such a way as to greatly reduce the chances of pregnancy. So, I have no opposition to breastfeeding for birth spacing.

    As the Catholic Nursing Mothers League (http://www.catholicbreastfeeding.org/principles.htm) points out:

    1) Breastfeeding is the natural continuation of the childbearing cycle which begins with pregnancy and childbirth. As such, it forms an important part of God’s plan for mothers and babies. Adequate prenatal education and childbirth experiences free from routine medical interventions facilitate successful breastfeeding initiation.

    2) The natural child spacing effect of breastfeeding is a moral and healthy form of natural birth regulation. Mothers can encourage this legitimate natural effect by practicing ecological breastfeeding.

    Some argue against this. They say, “If pregnancy is always good, and preventing pregnancy is always bad, then the choice to breastfeed must be wrong. And the choice to have sex in a nonfertile stage of the cycle rather than a fertile one must be wrong too. That’s just taking your position to its logical conclusion, isn’t it?”

    To which I would say, “God has built the natural contraceptive/child spacing effect into breastfeeding, and that’s fine. But that’s very different than man-made contraceptive devices or chemicals. God has the right to space out children using his created means. But that doesn’t prove we have the right to do so using our created means. He’s God, we’re not. He’s the Creator of life, we’re not. He has the right to inhibit pregnancy, we don’t.”

    Pregnancy is a blessing.

    As to your question, you can read more on the question in an article titled, “Doesn’t breastfeeding do the same thing as the Pill?,” which is posted here: http://www.epm.org/artman2/publish/prolife_birth_control_pill_questions_and_answers/Doesn_t_breastfeeding_do_the_same_thing_as_the_Pill.shtml

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