Breastfeeding – Preventing Diabetes

More than two million Canadians have diabetes; 90% of these have type 2 diabetes. Although type 2 diabetes is usually seen in adults, the number of children who develop type 2 diabetes is on the rise.

There are many factors that increase the chance of developing type 2 diabetes. These include being overweight or obese, having high blood pressure or having a family member with diabetes. Also, a baby whose mother has diabetes or gestational diabetes has a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Breastfeeding can help in many ways:

Benefits for Mom and Baby

In addition to the nutritional and emotional benefits, research shows that breastfed babies have a lower chance of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. A 2002 study found Aboriginal babies who were breastfed had a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Breastfeeding for two months or longer can reduce the risk for the baby by 40%. Mothers also benefit from breastfeeding. A study found that women who breastfed longer had lower chances of developing type 2 diabetes.

Benefits for Children

A study found that babies who where breastfed longer had less chance of being overweight later in life. Since obesity increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, breastfeeding can lower the risk of children becoming overweight or obese.

How Breastfeeding Works

It is not known exactly how it works, but breast milk contains special hormones, which may be a factor. These hormones may affect a baby’s appetite, sense of fullness, and blood sugar levels. In mothers, breastfeeding may improve blood sugar levels, which may protect them from developing type 2 diabetes.

Breastfeeding also supports a feeding relationship that helps mothers to learn and respond to their baby’s signs of hunger and fullness. Breastfed babies learn a healthy eating pattern, which may carry on into adulthood. Research shows that breastfed babies are usually leaner as they grow up, which may decrease the risk of them becoming overweight or obese as adults.

Breastfeeding is a safe, effective way to reduce the chance of developing type 2 diabetes. Support and encourage breastfeeding in your family and community. For more information, contact your local Public Health Nutritionist.

Written And Supported By The Public Health Nutritionists Of Saskatchewan

Originator: Shari Tremaine, Five Hills Health Region

Editing buddy: Heather Torrie, Sunrise Health Region


Cancer Prevention Institute of Canada, “Weight Gain Prevention and Weight Loss in Children and Adolescents”,

Harder, T., Bergmann, R., Kallischnigg, G. and Plagemann, A., “Duration of Breastfeeding and Risk of Overweight: A Meta-Analysis”, American Journal of Epidemiology, 162:.397-403, 2005.

Owen, C.G., Martin, R.M., Whincup, P.H., Smith, G.D. and Cook, D.G., “Does Breastfeeding Influence Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in Later Life? A Quantitative Analysis of Published Evidence”, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 84 (5): 1043-1054, 2006.

Stuebe, A.M., Rich-Edwards, J.W., Willett, W.C., Manson, J.E. and Michels, K.B., “Duration of Lactation and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes”, Journal of the American Medical Association, 294: 2601-2610, 2005.

Taylor, J.S., Kacmar, J.E., Nothnagle, M., and Lawrence, R.A., “A Systematic Review of the Literature Associating Breastfeeding with Type 2 Diabetes and Gestational Diabetes”, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 24 (5): 320-326, 2005.

US Department of Health and Human Services, The Federal Health Program for American Indians and Alaska Natives, “Breastfeeding, Diabetes and Obesity”,