Breakthrough study on breastfeeding’s long-term health benefits informs care for mothers and babies in WSLHD

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Westmead Hospital’s Sarah J Melov, Women’s Health Researcher and Member of the Executive Team for the Reproduction and Perinatal Centre, along with her esteemed colleagues, have conducted groundbreaking research shedding light on the long-term health benefits of breastfeeding for both mothers and babies.

The Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) study focuses on improving the health outcomes of women and infants through evidence-based interventions.

In a recent interview with The Pulse, Sarah elaborated on the key findings of her research and its implications for maternal and child health.

“The primary aim of the study was to identify if breastfeeding can reduce the risk of gestational diabetes in a woman’s next pregnancy,” Sarah said.

“The secondary aim was to identity groups of women who may have trouble breastfeeding and therefore be at increased risk of long term cardiometabolic disease such as Type 2 diabetes.”

Sarah highlighted the significance of the findings, saying they could be instrumental in how breastfeeding education is shared for new mums going forward.

“Many women have trouble breastfeeding and don’t reach their infant feeding goals. This can have a detrimental impact on the long-term health of their baby and the mother,” she said.

“Our research has found for the first time, in a large population, that fully or mostly breastfeeding may reduce the risk of gestational diabetes in a woman’s next pregnancy.

“Mostly or fully breastfeeding in a previous pregnancy improves pregnancy fasting OGTT (sugar test) in a subsequent pregnancy.

“It is already known that an abnormal fasting pregnancy OGTT result is related to developing Type 2 diabetes.

“Breastfeeding therefore may reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes. This is great news for mothers who can make informed infant feeding choices and to help the health of their baby and their own health in both their next pregnancy long term.”

Reflecting on the broader implications of the research, Sarah emphasised, “The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding for two years and beyond due to proven benefits for both mother and baby. Our research has identified that supporting women to mostly or fully breastfeed in the first three months may be key to long-term health benefits.”

This support is something that has been implemented into care in WSLHD, with all women with a previous birth being assessed during pregnancy with the BLISS check (Breastfeeding length Intensity Scoring system) developed in as part of Sarah’s PhD research.

Additionally, women who are identified as having previous breastfeeding problems are offered a lactation clinic appointment, and a breastfeeding and gestational diabetes video has been produced to highlight the health benefits of breastfeeding, particularly for women with diabetes in pregnancy.

Women and their babies are already benefiting from our research.

Sarah J Melov, Women’s Health Researcher

This research will be used to develop and trial targeted education programs for women who need breastfeeding support the most.