Breastfeeding Protects Against Obesity

Breastfeeding_baby200 By Lisa Ryckman, Rocky Mountain News
August 8, 2006

We’ve created a nation of fat babies, and it all starts with the first thing put in their mouths.

A Harvard Medical School study of 120,000 kids that spanned 22 years shows that babies and toddlers are more likely to be overweight now than ever before. The study found that the biggest jump came in the number of overweight infants, which increased by 74 percent.

The number of babies at risk of becoming overweight rose by nearly 60 percent. One of the best ways to change the numbers: breast-feeding, says Dr. Matthew Gillman, the study’s senior author.

A recent German study of 9,000 babies found that the longer children breast-feed, the less likely they are to be obese at age 6. Babies nursed for 3-5 months were 33 percent less likely to be obese; those breast-fed for more than a year were 72 percent less likely to become obese.

Researchers have found that human milk keeps insulin levels lower than formula and contains proteins that are easier to metabolize, both factors in fat storage.

The Harvard study results came during World Breast-feeding Week (Aug. 1-7), which celebrated the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes, which has existed for more than 20 years. The code provides guidelines for marketing infant formula and bottle-feeding products and challenges communities to support nursing moms and babies.

Jennifer Dellaport, chair of the Colorado Breastfeeding Task Force, says formula marketing can discourage breast-feeding by playing on new mothers’ concerns about milk production – a worry that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"Most women make plenty of milk, and replacing feedings with even small amounts of formula will cause a woman’s body to begin producing less milk," she says.

"Families have a right to know about the benefits of breast-feeding and to be supported if they choose to feed their babies this way."

Colorado has one of the highest breast-feeding rates in the nation: 82 percent of babies are breast-fed at birth, and more than half are still being nursed at six months, although less than 20 percent are being exclusively breast-fed at six months.

Last year, 21 states reached the national Healthy People 2010 objective of 75 percent of mothers initiating breast-feeding, but only Oregon achieved an exclusive breast-feeding rate of at least 25 percent through 6 months, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

For breast-feeding info: Colorado Breastfeeding Task Force, or 303-869-1888; La Leche League, or 303-779-6722; the National Breastfeeding Helpline, 1-800-994-9662.