The past few months brought news that breastfeeding is perhaps not all it was cracked up to be — at least not when the goal is the prevention of childhood obesity. The halo that surrounds breastfeeding may not shine so brightly — but some would say the jury is still out on that.
The University of Bristol study only covered one basically homogenous ethnic/cultural group, women and children in Belarus, and this was pointed out by Dr. Deborah Campbell of Montefiore Medical Center in New York, where she directs the division of neonatology. She seems a bit cautious about assigning too much meaning to breastfeeding studies in general because:
[…] regardless of whether of not breast milk does affect obesity levels, parents have to take other precautions to help their child with their weight including their paying attention to their kid’s diet and exercise levels.
Another skeptic is Dr. Ruth Lawrence of Rochester Medical Center, who cites studies showing that kids who start out with nature’s method of baby nourishment have better appetite control than children whose initial food is formula. Overall, plenty of good can still be attributed to breastfeeding, and researchers believe that public health efforts to promote and support the practice are fully justified.
Even Dr. Richard Martin, lead author of the University of Bristol study, told CBS News that there is “a lot of other evidence out there to continue to support breast-feeding.” Reporter Michelle Castillo elaborated on this:
Breast-feeding can give infants nutrients they need to survive and antibodies that protect against common childhood illnesses like diarrhea and pneumonia… It can also provide birth control for the mother, reduce risk for breast and ovarian cancer and help women return to their pre-pregnancy weight. Some studies have shown that children who are breast-fed have lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
Looking at this paragraph through the psychological food dependence-addiction lens can lead to some interesting speculations. Obesity is frequently the result of food addiction, which is often closely intertwined with emotional problems, and difficulty in coping with the stresses of life. Emotional problems and the inability to adequately handle everyday stress often result from some kind of trauma in early childhood. Childhood illnesses are definitely traumatic, and if breastfeeding helps minimize them, then it indirectly prevents obesity.
Kids sometimes have difficult childhoods when there are too many of them too soon. When parents have trouble providing the care, attention, or nutrition that are needed, children can develop emotional problems. If breastfeeding provides a natural form of family planning, and helps keep the parents’ workload manageable, the children are emotionally healthier and less likely to wander onto the path of psychological food dependence and/or addiction. Once again, breastfeeding indirectly helps prevent childhood obesity.
For a mother to return to her pre-pregnancy weight is an advantage, not only for her own sake but for the sake of the child who will grow up with the example of a normal-weight woman rather than an obese one. Children do tend to imitate what they see, especially when they see it up close on a daily basis.
And of course when a mother suffers from breast cancer or ovarian cancer, the whole family faces disaster and that means a lot of stress. If breastfeeding reduces the number of obese mothers, hospitalized mothers, or dead mothers, then it prevents a lot of trauma and indirectly prevents childhood obesity.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Breast-feeding may not stave off childhood obesity like previously thought,” CBS News, 03/13/13
Source: “Breastfeeding may not Prevent Childhood Obesity According to Study in Belarus,” Science World Report, 03/12/13
Image by Mothering Touch.