Breast-feeding best for diabetic moms
For most moms, experts say, breast-feeding's the healthier choice. It protects babies against diarrhea and respiratory infections, as well as other illnesses. But mothers who are obese or diabetic might have been given the opposite advice: Because some research has suggested that milk from diabetic or overweight mothers is more fattening, doctors have worried that babies who drank this milk might be at an unusually high risk of developing lifelong weight problems. (These babies already have an increased risk for becoming diabetic or obese, since their mothers are.)
It appears those concerns can now be set to rest. A new study of more than 15,000 children, published in the October issue of the journal Diabetes Care, shows that breast-feeding does a better job of preventing obesity in kids even when their mother is overweight or diabetic. "For these moms, breast-feeding is the first thing they can do to reduce their child's chances of developing these conditions," says lead study author Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, a professor and associate chair in the department of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
The researchers analyzed data from children ages 9 to 14 whose mothers participated in Harvard's Nurses' Health study. It found that those who were breast-fed were up to 21 percent less likely than the bottle-fed group to become overweight as adolescents even if their mother was obese or diabetic. (Although the study didn't address diabetes risk, says Mayer-Davis, children who maintain a healthy body weight have a lower risk than heavy children of developing diabetes as an adult.) The benefits were greatest for children who nursed exclusively for the first nine months. The researchers took into account a child's physical activity level, food intake, and TV watching time, all of which could have affected the results.
The reason for the initial concern stemmed from a small German study published in 2002 that found that infants born to diabetic mothers had an increased risk of becoming overweight at age 2 if they were nourished with their mother's milk during the first week of life. Those infants who were given banked donor milk had no increase in risk. The researchers speculated that the breast milk of diabetic women could be higher in calories or sugar since these women tend to have a higher concentration of glucose in their blood. Other research since then has shown that breast-feeding helps protect against diabetes in babies breast-fed by diabetic mothers, but these were also small studies.
Andreas Plagemann, author of the German study and professor of obstetrics at the Charité University Medicine in Berlin, said via E-mail, "I completely agree that breast-feeding is the best way to nurture a baby … even in the case of maternal diabetes and/or obesity." He pointed out that his study compared feeding with different types of breast milk (not breast milk versus formula) and emphasized that diabetic women who nurse should increase their efforts to maintain healthy glucose levels in order to ensure the healthiest possible milk for their babies.