Breastfeeding and Obesity

Are children who are breastfed less likely to be obese in adulthood? Are obese mothers less likely to breastfeed their children?

In the Western world obesity is the number one health concern. It affects both sexes and cuts across all socioeconomic boundaries. Many parents with babies want to give their baby the best possible start in life, and that includes their diet.

A large survey – carried out in Germany – found striking evidence that mothers who breastfed their babies were far less likely to have obese children in later years. And it found that the longer the period in which babies received breast milk, the greater the benefits, with those breast-fed for a year or longer more than five times less likely to become obese. The research was based on 9,357 overweight or obese children, of school entry age, in Bavaria. The research team quizzed their mothers on how they were fed after birth. Compared with the 4.5% obesity rate of those children who had never been breast fed, only 3.8% of those who had been fed by breast for just two months became obese. After breast feeding for three to five months, the likelihood of obesity was only half that of a bottle-fed child. And less than one per cent of those breast-fed for more than a year became obese.

Research has also found that those who are breastfeed remain slimmer than those who weren’t through out their lives. No one has yet answered why this is, though it seems that breastfeeding ‘programs’ children not to be obese. When added to other well known benefits of breastfeeding such as, less urinary infections and lower blood pressure, the long-term health advantages of breastfeeding can’t be overstated.

But what if mom is obese? A research team in Australia has found that obese mothers stop breastfeeding sooner than their slimmer counterparts. Even after allowing for socioeconomic factors, the researchers found that overweight mothers were less apt to attempt breastfeeding at all and those that did were less likely to continue breastfeeding. Overall, the researchers found, overweight or obese women were 76 per cent more likely to stop breastfeeding before their infants were six months old than their normal weight peers. Why obese women cease breastfeeding early is still not known, although the researchers postulate that excess weight may change a woman’s hormonal profile, making sustained lactation more difficult, or it may be harder for an infant to “latch on” to breast tissue if the mother is overweight or obese.

There is no danger in an obese mother, who breastfeeds, making her child obese. The constituency of breast milk remains unchanged. By breastfeeding, it would appear that a mother is helping her child avoid obesity.

There is one positive note for obese – or any mother who wants to lose weight after the birth of their child: breastfeeding has been shown to be the best way for any mother to reduce her weight in the months after giving birth.