Sunday, January 3, 2010

Obesity, Diabetes, and Breast-feeding

Breast-feeding has become widely accepted and encouraged in the years since my mother gave birth. During her era of the post-war industrialized society, artificial formula feeding of babies was strongly advertised to new mothers. Using television, the new cultural innovation, manufacturers promoted a wide range of products perported to make the new mother's life easier. I would disagree. Being inclined myself to take the easier way, I found breast-feeding to be much easier; but is it better?

In the next few columns we will explore the value of breast-feeding. This information is easily obtained through books, from your doctor, and is available online. I will share a few of the highlights from these sources. Today we will talk about obesity and diabetes in breast-fed infants.

The CDC's Katherine Shealy has stated wide acceptance in the medical community that breast-feeding is instrumental in helping babies have optimal weight in adult life. The question of why this phenomena occurs is not easy to answer. For ethical reasons research has not been conducted on newborns. However, researchers have pointed to some probable answers. 1)Bottle-fed babies may not learn to self-regulate their own intake of food because parents tend to encourage an infant to 'finish' the bottle. 2)Formula-fed infants have higher insulin concentrations and a more prolonged insulin response. This stimulates the body to deposit more fat tissue, which in turn increases weight gain, obesity, and risk of type 2 diabetes. 3)A third possibility is that concentrations of leptin (the hormone that is thought to inhibit appetite and control body fat) may be influenced by breast-feeding.

Breast-feeding is an adjustable process - babies' feeding intakes vary according to individual needs and the mothers' supply adjusts automatically to meet these needs. Mothers of breast-fed babies have a more relaxed attitude to their toddlers' intake of solid food and their toddlers consequently eat a wider range of solid foods. They are taller and leaner than their bottlefed counterparts. In a study by Harvard researchers, the longer infants were breast-fed, the less likely they were to be overweight in adolescence. An analysis of seventeen studies from Australia found that babies who were breast-fed for nine months had a 31% reduction of risk for obesity.

Obesity and diabetes are highly correlated. Some of the same research I mentioned was also analyzed for the risk of developing diabetes. Babies who were exclusively breast-fed during their first three months of life had a 34% lower risk of developing diabetes than those who were not breast-fed.

Next week we will continue this discussion on addition health benefits of breast-feeding.

Toad House Publishing

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