Disclaimer: We acknowledge that all infant/baby/child feeding techniques, not just breastfeeding, are valid in their own right. This post is only intended to give an objective look at how breastfeeding can help in the prevention of childhood obesity.
August is National Breastfeeding Month, an observance dedicated to advancing the nation’s health by working together to protect, promote and support breastfeeding practices. With the incredible benefits that breastfeeding has for both mother and child, it’s not surprising that there is also a link between breastfeeding and the prevention of childhood obesity.
The Perfect Infant Nutrition
Let’s start with why the benefits of breast milk are so powerful. A mother’s milk has every vitamin, mineral and nutrient that her baby needs. The makeup of her milk changes with each meal, day and year to match subtle changes in her baby’s requirements.
Babies are easily able to digest, absorb and utilize breast milk for normal growth and development. They also use nutrients in breast milk to boost immunity, aid digestion and fight illness. At no other time in life can a complete source of nourishment be contained in one food source as it is in breast milk.
How Breastfeeding Affects Weight
Research shows that breast milk can help prevent childhood obesity later in life by helping babies develop healthy eating habits based around satiety, or fullness. When a baby breastfeeds, they are in control of the amount of milk they take at each feeding. This is different from bottle feeding, where the caretaker is in control and usually tries to ensure that all of the milk in the bottle is taken.
The hormone leptin, which regulates appetite, is found in higher concentration in breastfed babies. Leptin in breast milk helps babies develop natural satiety so they can control the amount of milk they need with each feeding. This is very important for developing healthy eating habits in the future. It also means that children who are breastfed tend to have a lower risk of disordered eating and unhealthy weight gain that can develop into obesity.
Even though it’s National Breastfeeding Month, we want to point out that not every mother is able to breastfeed their baby. Bottle, pump, tube and formula feeding are all valid in their own right and should be respected. With that being said, breastfeeding is a baby’s birth right and can help infants get their healthiest start in life. We should encourage, support and protect breastfeeding practices as well as the astounding mothers who do this hard work.