Resources and Evidence Contact us

Breastfeeding and childhood obesity: The connection

Childhood obesity is an epidemic. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has tripled in the past 30 years. That’s not a good trend. Childhood obesity is serious: It has both immediate and long-term effects on health and well-being. Obese kids are more likely to have risk factors for heart disease, pre-diabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and poor self-esteem. The good news? Obesity prevention may begin at the very earliest moments of life when parents make feeding decisions for their new baby.

Breastfeeding benefits

Research continues to show breastfeeding has an affect on obesity throughout the life span, in addition to offering many other proven health benefits. Add to that, a baby’s risk of becoming an overweight child goes down with each month he or she is breastfed. Exclusive breastfeeding (that is, not combining with formula) may offer even more protection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advocates breastfeeding should be one strategy to help prevent childhood obesity. And the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mothers exclusively breastfeed for six months and continue breastfeeding, as foods are introduced, until at least 12 months. Yet, some people feel breastfeeding is not recognized as a real weapon in the fight against childhood obesity. A recent editorial in the journal Breastfeeding Medicine reflects the frustration.

The United States has one of the highest rates of obesity in the world, and we’re suffering from a health epidemic unlike any other we’ve ever faced in our nation’s history. Yet breastfeeding, one of the easiest and most natural solutions to help eradicate this problem, is not discussed among local, state, and federal policymakers as a viable and actionable solution.

The breastfeeding-obesity link

There is still research to be done on the breastfeeding-obesity link. But there are some theories about why breastfeeding is beneficial. What’s indisputable is that breastfeeding—especially extended breastfeeding—is beneficial in ways worth considering. After all, childhood obesity affects teenagers and adults, and it’s much harder to gain control over weight issues once they’ve cropped up. By breastfeeding, it’s even possible you’re giving your baby a flying start on the path to weight management. What do you think about this potential benefit of breastfeeding? If you’ve breastfed a child who is older now, do you think it had an affect on his or her weight?

  • Breastfed babies may be able to better self-regulate the amount of milk and calories they consume from the beginning of their lives than babies who are fed from a bottle.
  • Breastfed babies may be more open and willing to try a variety of new (and healthy) foods later in life than formula-fed babies because of the variety of flavors in mom’s milk.
  • Breastfeeding may have a different effect on hormones and metabolism than formula feeding.
  • Breastfed babies grow up around other healthy choices their families make.