Breastfeeding Keeps Babies from Becoming Obese? Not Necessarily!

mother breastfeeding her newborn baby

In the so-called Mommy Wars, the battle between breastfeeding and formula feeding moms continues to be a point of contention. Breastfeeding moms often cite the desire to decrease their child’s risk of obesity as part of their reason for nursing. Unfortunately, the link between breastfeeding and obesity isn’t quite that simple.

According to Jessica Woo and Lisa Martin of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in the US, who reviewed relevant breastfeeding studies in Springer’s journal Current Obesity Reports, factors such as whether a child’s mother is obese, the quality of her milk, and the socio-economic conditions a baby is born into also have an influence in determining the protective effects of breast milk.

Surprisingly, the study found that the composition of breast milk varies between lean and obese mothers due to the foods they eat and the micro-organisms in their gut. This means that the safeguarding properties of breastmilk are not universal. Mothers must also consider that studies promoting the protective benefits of breastfeeding require babies to be exclusively breastfed for six months or longer. In the United States, most breastfeeding mothers do not meet these guidelines due to a lack of adequate support for pumping at work.

Woo and Martin urge mothers to keep in mind that there’s more to the development of obese children than just the type of milk they consumed as babies. Breastfeeding can be beneficial if it’s part of an overall effort to lead a healthy lifestyle, but simply encouraging every mother to nurse isn’t the answer to our country’s obesity crisis.

“The decision to breastfeed is strongly personal and closely linked with specific socio-economic and lifestyle patterns. Therefore, definitive epidemiologic evidence about the role of the feeding of human milk on obesity prevention may never be truly attainable,” Martin said.