Experts recommend breastfeeding for numerous reasons. Breastfed babies have lower risks of ear infections and respiratory infections, develop diarrhea less often, develop fewer food allergies and even appear less likely to develop leukemia later in life. They also are less likely to become obese and to develop diabetes in childhood.
How It Works
Researchers believe one reason breastfed babies are less likely to become overweight is because they can regulate their intake better than bottle fed babies. When mothers feed babies from bottles, they may focus on encouraging babies to eat a certain number of ounces and babies may eat more than they really need. When mothers breastfeed, though, they cannot see how many ounces babies eat and must rely on babies’ behavior to tell them when babies have had enough to eat.
The California WIC Association also suggests that breastfed babies accept a wider variety of foods after they begin eating solid foods because breast milk contains a variety of flavors due to the different foods mothers eat, so breastfed children are already accustomed to a variety of tastes. A willingness to eat a variety of foods makes it easier to eat a healthful diet that promotes a healthy weight.
In addition, researchers believe that babies might metabolize breast milk differently than formula. Breastfed babies are less likely to be overweight at just 12 months of age and they have more stable insulin levels.
Babies that are breastfed exclusively are less likely to become overweight than those that are given both breast milk and infant formula. The longer a child is breastfed, the greater the protection against obesity.
The California WIC Association recommends that all hospitals adopt policies that encourage and support breastfeeding for new mothers, although mothers should always be giving the choice to breastfeed or bottle feed. Mothers should receive education about the benefits of breastfeeding and professional support as needed while breastfeeding.
Employers can help by supporting breastfeeding women in the workplace. They can allow breastfeeding women to work flexible schedules so they can feed their infants, allow them adequate break periods to pump breast milk during the work day and provide private rooms for women to pump milk at work.
Health insurance companies can help by covering the costs of lactation consultants and breastfeeding supplies like breast pumps.
Businesses can help by providing private areas for mothers that wish to breastfeed their infants. Some department stores already do this but additional stores, restaurants and other businesses could follow suit.
United States Breastfeeding Committee. http://www.usbreastfeeding.org/NewsInformation/NewsRoom/200904BreastfeedingandObesityPrevention/tabid/125/Default.aspx. Breastfeeding and Obesity Prevention.
California WIC Association. http://www.calwic.org/docs/reports/bf_paper1.pdf. Breastfeeding: The First Defense Against Obesity.