Healthy Kids: Breast-feeding can help prevent obesity

Healthy Kids: Breast-feeding can help prevent obesity

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Dr. Howard Schlansky of Mercy Children's Hospital
Dr. Howard Schlansky of Mercy Children’s Hospital

To help stem the epidemic of overweight children, obesity prevention should begin the day an infant is born with the mom choosing to breast-feed instead of using formula.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breast-feeding for the first six months of life and continued nursing with the addition of foods up to at least one year of age. Mother and her toddler can also mutually agree to nurse beyond one year of age.

Exclusive breast-feeding for at least the first three to six months provides protection against cold viruses and other respiratory infections, ear infections, gastrointestinal illnesses, allergies, asthma, eczema and more.

Studies have also shown a 15 percent to 30 percent reduction in obesity compared to non-breast-fed infants. Maternal benefits from nursing also include faster postpartum weight loss and more rapid shrinkage of the uterus.

As a group, formula-fed infants tend to weigh more than breast-fed babies at 1 year of age, and are six times more likely to be overweight at age 3 if they begin eating solid foods before 4 months of age.

One possible explanation for the protective effect of exclusive breast-feeding against obesity is that breast-fed babies are thought to do a better job of self-regulating their intake. In addition, babies getting solids ahead of schedule can consume an average of 100 extra calories a day, up to 15-20 percent more than they need.

A fussy infant is not necessarily a hungry infant. Do breast-feed on demand, but if you have nursed in the last two or three hours try to calm your baby first by swaddling, singing, rocking, walking with your baby upright on your shoulder or in a stroller.

While 75 percent of moms initiate breast-feeding in the hospital, only 43 percent are doing any breast-feeding by 6 months of age and only 13 percent have nursed exclusively for the first six months.

If at any time you have difficulties with breast-feeding, don’t hesitate to ask the baby’s physician, office nursing staff or the hospital lactation consultant for help.

Conversely, if the doctor is concerned your infant is underweight, be sure they are using the World Health Organization growth charts until your toddler is 2 years old. These charts more accurately show appropriate weight gain for breast-fed infants.

Families with breast-fed infants also experience a significant cost savings. In addition to illness prevention resulting in fewer doctor visits and lost workdays, you can save approximately $500 to $1,500 within the first year by not purchasing formula.

For more information and resources on breast-feeding, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics website at aap.org/breastfeeding.

Dr. Howard Schlansky is a Mercy Clinic pediatrician with Mercy Children’s Hospital and also serves as the medical director of pediatrics for the clinic. For more information, visit mercy.net/breastfeeding-resources or call the breast-feeding support line at 314-251-6781.

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