In Germany, roughly four per cent of all pregnant women develop gestational diabetes, with one in two women going on to develop type 2 diabetes within the next 10 years.
In a previous study, Helmholtz scientists found that breastfeeding for more than three months postpartum has a protective effect on the body. Moreover, it could provide women with some protection from type 2 diabetes for up to 15 years.
In this new study, the study authors examined around 200 patients who had developed gestational diabetes, all of whom received a standardised glucose solution and gave a fasting blood sample before, and during the test.
The samples were then compared with 156 different metabolites from other women who had given birth. On average, the women with gestational diabetes had given birth three and a half years earlier.
Study author Dr. Daniela Much, Director of the Institute of Diabetes Research (IDF) at Helmholtz, revealed: “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.
“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.”
Basically, lactation influences disease-related metabolic pathways, and this could be the underlying reason for the protective effect.
The researchers also highlight that the metabolites involved in this study were previous linked in earlier studies with type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.
Lead author Dr. Sandra Hummel, head of the Gestational Diabetes working group at the IDF, concluded: “On average, women with gestational diabetes breastfeed less often and for shorter duration than non-diabetic mothers.
“The aim is now to develop strategies that will improve the breastfeeding behaviours of mothers with gestational diabetes.”
The findings appear online in the journal Diabetologia.