A new study looks at the duration of breast-feeding and babies who are high risk for obesity, as they get older. Researchers found that the longer mothers breast –fed these higher risk babies, the less likely the babies were to become overweight later.
"Breast-feeding for longer durations appears to have a protective effect against the early signs of overweight and obesity," said lead researcher Stacy Carling, a doctoral candidate in nutrition at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y.
Carling and her colleagues followed 595 children from birth to the age of 2. They tracked the children's weight and length over this time, and compared individual children's growth trajectories to how long the children breast-fed.
Which children are considered at high risk for extra weight gain? Researchers found that babies whose mothers were overweight or obese, mothers with lower education levels and mothers who smoked during pregnancy were more likely to have overweight children. Almost 59 percent of the children at risk for being overweight had mothers with one or more of these characteristics, compared to about 43 percent of the children not at risk for excessive weight gain.
Higher-risk babies who breast-fed for less than two months were more than twice as likely to gain extra weight than those who breast-fed for at least four months.
Although the study didn’t prove that longer breast-feeding actually reduced risk for obesity, it did provide several reasons why the link between the two may exist.
"Breast-feeding an infant may allow proper development of hunger and satiety signals, as well as help prevent some of the behaviors that lead to overweight and obesity," Carling said.
"Breast-feeding, especially on demand, versus on schedule, allows an infant to feed when he or she is hungry, thereby fostering an early development of appetite control," she said. "When a baby breast-feeds, she can control how much milk she gets and how often, naturally responding to internal signals of hunger and satiation."
The study did not include information on whether the babies were exclusively breast-fed or how often they were getting milk at the breast versus from a bottle, but the time required to reduce obesity risk was not long.
"The difference of two months of breast-feeding may be enough to reap some benefit," Carling said.
There are many reasons mothers choose to breast-feed for shorter periods, and some mothers are not able to breast-feed at all. For mothers that choose to breast-feed, Carling believes they need to be supported on many levels.
"Ultimately, increasing breast-feeding rates in the United States means increasing knowledge and support at a variety of levels from institutional to interpersonal," Carling said. "Our study recognizes the benefit of longer duration breast-feeding in a specific population and, hopefully, this and other studies will lead to more customized breast-feeding promotion in those populations at higher risk for overweight and obesity."
The findings were published in the January print issue of Pediatrics, and funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.
Source: Tara Haelle, http://consumer.healthday.com/women-s-health-information-34/breast-feeding-news-82/breast-feeding-for-longer-may-protect-infants-at-risk-for-obesity-694218.html