Breastfeeding Doesn't Prevent Childhood Obesity?
Breastfeeding can reduce your baby’s chances of running into a host of health problems, from ear infections, diarrhea, respiratory tract infections, allergies, diabetes, and even bacterial meningitis.
But one item not on the latest list of breastfeeding benefits? Despite long-held beliefs otherwise, some researchers now say that breastfeeding may not protect babies from developing childhood weight problems.
The evidence comes from a new joint study by researchers from Harvard University and Canada’s McGill University that followed more than 13,000 breast-feeding mother-infant pairs living in Belarus, a country with very low breastfeeding rates.
According to researchers, half the mothers in the study enrolled in a program developed by the World Health Organization to promote breastfeeding, while the rest of the moms received standard postpartum care.
On the one hand, researchers found that being in a program that supports a mom’s breastfeeding efforts really helps: At three months, 43 percent of the women in the WHO program were still exclusively breastfeeding, compared with 6 percent of moms who received standard care; by six months, 7.8 percent of moms in the program were still breastfeeding, while a resounding 99.4 percent of standard care mothers had already switched to formula. For comparison, in the U.S., almost half of moms—47.2 percent—are still breastfeeding at six months.
However, when researchers tracked children’s health (through age 11), they found no real differences between kids in the two groups when it came to either weight or height. They even noticed that body mass index, percent body fat and the chances for a child to be obese or overweight weight were all slightly higher in children who had been breastfed longer, though the difference was statistically insignificant.
What does this all mean? With the many thousands of babies involved, it doesn’t seem like what researchers found is random chance. But when it comes to nixing breastfeeding as a helpful tool in the fight against childhood obesity, other lactation experts are saying don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
As the United States Lactation Consultant Association (USLCA) explains, breastfeeding is the only proven preventative for childhood obesity. But the catch is, it takes time. “The longer a baby breastfeeds, the greater the protection against obesity. In one major analysis, breastfeeding for nine months reduces the odds of a child becoming overweight by more than 30 percent.”
This makes more logical sense, too. As lactation experts explain, breastfeeding helps to lower obesity rates because it helps babies establish the habit of eating until they’re full—as opposed to encouraging a baby to finish a bottle in order not to waste formula. This latest study is certainly interesting, but it could be that the moms just didn’t breastfeed long enough for it make enough of an impact.
In other words, if a baby gets nine months under his belt of eating only until satisfied, that may be enough to ingrain that habit for a lifetime—and also be enough to put “obesity prevention” back at the top of the list of why it’s a good idea to breastfeed your baby.
Do you breastfeed? What benefits are most motivating to you?
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