Obesity is reaching epidemic proportions in the
Obesity is a serious health concern, being linked with problems such as diabetes and heart disease, and with a shorter life expectancy.
This obesity epidemic has occurred along with low levels of breastfeeding, but links between the two have been hard to study. This is mainly because mothers who breastfeed tend to have higher education levels and higher incomes, both linked to less weight problems in their offspring.
Dr. Matthew Gilman surveyed over 5,000 children aged between 9 and 14 and was able to compare siblings who had been breastfed for different durations.
He found that, even within a single family, children who were breastfed for a longer period were less likely to become obese in the teen years, and that this advantage increased with the duration of nursing.
Gilman and colleagues estimate that, for every 4 months of extra breastfeeding, the risk of teen obesity was reduced by 6 percent. For example, an infant breastfed to age 1 has a 24 percent lower chance of teen weight problems than a baby weaned soon after birth.
Dr. Gilman suggests that breastfeeding may have lasting positive effects on body metabolism and may also allow children to self-regulate their intake: a skill that may help them to keep a normal weight life-long.
Guest Commentary by Sarah J. Buckley MD:
Breastfeeding rates are rising in the
With our increasing understanding of the many benefits of nursing, many are now recommending a longer duration of breastfeeding. Both the
Babies who are breastfed through the first year of life have fewer illnesses, both minor and major, and a lower chance of death, which extends to at least 3 years of age.
Breastfeeding gives young children protection from deaths due to SIDS and injuries, as well as infections. The
The benefits of breastfeeding increase with duration, and the disease-protective effects actually increase as weaning approaches. Some have called this increased concentration of antibodies, as breastfeeding declines, the "parting gift" to the baby, ensuring on-going good health and strong immunity.
Breastfeeding into the second year also gives a strong benefit in terms of nutrition. Research from
All references for this information are available in Sarah's essay "Extended Breastfeeding: the gift of a lifetime" in Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering: The wisdom and science of gentle choices in pregnancy, birth, and parenting, which can be found at her Web site. More information also available at ProMoM and the La Leche League.