Background: Observational evidence suggests that having been breastfed in infancy may reduce the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in later life.
Objective: The objective was to examine the influence of initial breastfeeding on type 2 diabetes and blood glucose and insulin concentrations.
Design: A systematic review of published studies identified 1010 reports; 23 examined the relation between infant feeding and type 2 diabetes in later life or risk factors for diabetes. Risk factors in infants were examined separately from those in children and adults. All estimates were pooled by using fixed-effect models; differences <0 and ratios <1 imply a beneficial effect of breastfeeding.
Results: Subjects who were breastfed had a lower risk of type 2 diabetes in later life than did those who were formula fed (7 studies; 76 744 subjects; odds ratio: 0.61; 95% CI: 0.44, 0.85; P = 0.003). Children and adults without diabetes who had been breastfed had marginally lower fasting insulin concentrations than did those who were formula fed (6 studies; 4800 subjects; percentage difference: -3%; 95% CI: -8%, 1%; P = 0.13); no significant difference in fasting glucose concentrations was observed. Breastfed infants had lower mean preprandial blood glucose (12 studies; 560 subjects; mean difference: -0.17 mmol/L; 95% CI: -0.28, -0.05 mmol/L; P = 0.005) and insulin (7 studies; 291 subjects; mean difference: -2.86 pmol/L; 95% CI: -5.76, 0.04 pmol/L; P = 0.054) concentrations than did those who were formula fed.
Conclusion: Breastfeeding in infancy is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, with marginally lower insulin concentrations in later life, and with lower blood glucose and serum insulin concentrations in infancy.