For years we’ve been hearing how “breast is best” for both mom and child. From improved immunity to a better bonding experience between mom and baby, breastfeeding has many benefits that make it worth pursuing. Additionally, breastfeeding provides opportunity for the earliest obesity prevention possible. In fact, breastfeeding has been shown to impact weight throughout an individual’s lifespan, making the decision whether or not to breastfeed even more important as we see childhood obesity rates continue to rise.
Yet, why exactly is breastfeeding so important in preventing childhood obesity? And are there certain guidelines parents need to follow to help their child avoid all of the complications and risks associated with having an increased weight? Tammy Gold, owner of Gold Parent Coaching, answered some of our toughest questions about breastfeeding and the role it plays in preventing childhood obesity.
According to Gold, breastfeeding for as long as possible and knowing when to introduce solid foods are both important strategies in promoting healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 15-20% of obesity could be prevented if children had been breastfed as babies. The most likely reason for this, states Gold, is because “a baby knows when he is full and when he is hungry. So a baby who is breastfed is able to eat only as much as he needs, as opposed to Mommy making 4 ounces of formula and having him drink the whole bottle.” This type of feeding may be the early beginnings of developing a healthy relationship with food and could be, in part, the reason why children who are breastfed as infants are able to maintain healthier weights into adolescence.
If that’s not enough, Gold goes on to say that hormonal differences exist between formula fed and breast fed babies. “Formula-fed babies tend to have more of the hormone that stimulates the appetite and breastfed babies tend to have more of the hormone that makes the baby feel full,” claims Gold. Breast milk also appears to have the right combination of ingredients that baby needs for adequate growth while formula remains a lacking second best. One poignant difference? The amount of protein each contains.
“Too much protein can increase a baby’s risk of obesity and it has been found that formula and cow’s milk contain an excess amount of protein, unlike breast milk,” states Gold. Again, this may be another factor leading to the excessive weight gain commonly seen in one year olds who were primarily formula-fed versus those who were breastfed during their infancy. At least, that is what Gold believes to be true.
Yet Gold isn’t alone in her beliefs. In fact, she assures us that breastfeeding is scientifically proven to reduce the rates of obesity. According to Gold, “the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recognized that breastfeeding reduces the risk of childhood obesity. Although the theory has been proven, there are still questions around exactly why the link between breastfed babies and childhood obesity exists.”
It is possible that developing a healthy eating pattern with food at an early age could be partially responsible for achievement and maintenance of a healthy weight later in life; however, frequency, duration, and exclusivity of breastfeeding are all equally important in the development of a healthy weight. Gold clearly understands this and recommends babies be breastfed for at least the first four months of their lives. She also advised that during this time, babies shouldn’t be given any formula or solid foods and ideally, breastfeeding should be continued throughout the first year of life. According to Gold, “it is estimated that for each month of breastfeeding, up to 9 months, the odds of being overweight decrease by 4%.”
Gold points out that by introducing solid foods or formula earlier than 6 months can result in a greater risk of childhood obesity. The AAP recommends that solid foods not be introduced until at least 6 months of age while continuing to breastfeed until 1 year of age. Interestingly enough, Gold shares that “it has been suggested that breastfed babies will adjust their caloric intake of breast milk to compensate for the calories in solid food. This means that the baby will self-regulate his eating/feeding patterns to fit his level of hunger appropriately. Remember, childhood obesity goes on to affect teenagers and then adults in later years. Although it has not been proven that there is a link between being breastfed as a child and obesity in the teen or adult years, it is much harder for an overweight child to gain control over weight issues down the road. But, by breastfeeding, at least the baby is starting out on the right path.”
For further information on the importance of breastfeeding, visit Gold Parent Coaching at www.goldparentcoaching.com. There you will find resources on how to promote healthy family habits within your own home and to better develop your own parenting skills.