FRIDAY, Feb. 25, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Infants whose mothers had diabetes during pregnancy are at increased risk for childhood obesity, but breast-feeding lowers that risk, a new study suggests.
Among babies exposed to diabetes in utero, those who were breast-fed for six months or more were no more likely to put on extra weight when they were 6 to 13 years old than children whose mothers did not have diabetes during pregnancy, the investigators found.
The findings were the same across all ethnicities. However, this protective effect was not seen in babies who were breast-fed for less than six months.
The study is published in the February issue of the journal Diabetes Care.
"Our data suggest that breast-feeding promotion may be an effective strategy for reducing the increased risk of childhood obesity in offspring of mothers with diabetes during pregnancy," lead researcher Dr. Dana Dabelea, an associate professor in the epidemiology department at the Colorado School of Public Health, said in a news release from the American Diabetes Association.
"Since childhood obesity and in utero exposure to maternal diabetes have both been associated with later development of type 2 diabetes, it follows that breast-feeding these children may also help reduce their future risk for developing type 2 [diabetes]. However, further research would be needed to confirm that added protection," Dabelea added.
The findings reinforce the importance of breast-feeding, an expert wrote in an editorial accompanying the study.
"Beyond its important role for mother-child bonding, breast-feeding as compared to formula has a considerable number of positive short- and long-term effects on human development, such as decreased incidence of high respiratory infections, a lower risk of asthma and atopy, and a decreased risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes as well as type 1 diabetes," wrote Dr. Andreas Plagemann, of the Obstetrics Clinic in the division of experimental obstetrics at Charite-University Medicine Berlin, Germany.
"Moreover, profound evidence exists that breast-feeding has the potential to permanently decrease the long-term risk of developing obesity, as shown by the results of at least four meta-analyses on this issue," the editorialist added.
WomensHealth.gov has more about breast-feeding.