Science & Research

Healthy babies

Breastfeeding study helps reduce risk of Type 2 diabetes and obesity

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, November / December 2012

A research study designed to promote breastfeeding at Sagkeeng First Nation is leading to healthier babies at less risk for Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Dr. Patricia Martens started working alongside members of the community in 1992. At the time, it had been established that breastfeeding could reduce respiratory and gastrointestinal infections in infants. The challenge was to encourage reluctant moms to breastfeed their babies.

Martens, along with research assistant Linda Romphf, worked with the community in 1995 to develop resources to promote breastfeeding, including an educational booklet and video. The community health unit also created a pilot peer counselling support program in 1997 that encouraged breastfeeding. In two years, breastfeeding rates jumped from 38 per cent to 70 per cent. The duration rate also increased, with 40 per cent of moms still breastfeeding at six months, compared to a national average of 25 per cent for women across the country.

That success prompted the community to permanently fund the peer counsellor program in 1998. Around that time, other research also revealed reductions in Type 2 diabetes and obesity among people breastfed as infants. Martens, along with other U of M scientists, later showed the same result in Manitoba: First Nations teens that had been breastfed as babies were less likely to have early-onset Type 2 diabetes, and the longer the duration of breastfeeding, the lower the risk.

"The Sagkeeng materials are now being used in other First Nation communities to boost breastfeeding rates," says Martens, who is now the Director of the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy and a professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the U of M's Faculty of Medicine. "That's pretty cool," she says.

Another of Martens' research studies in Manitoba hospitals also revealed that breastfed babies lost 5.5 per cent of their body weight in the first few days of life (which is normal), while formula-fed babies lost only 2.5 per cent, implying the bottle-fed babies were being overfed. It is important not to overfeed babies because that might predispose them to obesity and Type 2 diabetes later in life. Partly as a result of Martens' work, Manitoba hospital protocols have evolved to encourage only appropriate volumes of formula be fed to newborns, and only minimal supplementation be provided to breastfed babies when required.

Wave: November / December 2012

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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