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babytalk


Can Breastfeeding Help Prevent
Childhood Obesity?

Can breastfeeding play a role in the prevention childhood obesity? In addition to all of the other health benefits of breastfeeding—such as a reduced risk for respiratory and ear infections, decreased likelihood of diarrhea, and lower risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)—could breastfeeding help protect against childhood obesity?

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, a time to consider strategies that can help prevent this serious threat to children’s health. One in three children in the United States is overweight or obese. Today’s children are experiencing health conditions that were once considered primarily adult problems, such as elevated blood cholesterol levels, increased blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. When these conditions start in childhood, they can persist into adulthood and negatively affect life-long health.

The good news is that breastfeeding is linked with a decreased risk of childhood obesity when compared to formula feeding. And the odds of being overweight may decrease with longer duration of breastfeeding. As the optimal way to nourish babies, breastfeeding may play an important role in preventing childhood obesity.

Several reasons have been suggested to explain how breastfeeding may reduce the risk of pediatric overweight and obesity, including:

  • Breastfed infants are better able to control the amount of breastmilk they consume, which means that they can respond to internal cues for when they are hungry and when they are full. Bottle-fed infants, on the other hand, may be encouraged to finish a bottle, which can override an infant’s self-regulation of energy intake.


Our Breastfeeding Benefits Box Display is a fun tool
to teach many of the benefits of breastfeeding.


  • Formula feeding and breastfeeding have different effects on an infant’s metabolism and hormones, including insulin, which encourages the storage of fat. Formula-fed infants have higher concentrations of insulin and a longer insulin response than breastfed infants, which can result in increased weight gain and obesity. The higher protein content of formula also may increase insulin levels. In addition, studies suggest that children who were breastfed have superior concentrations of leptin in their blood. Leptin is a hormone thought to control hunger as well as levels of body fat.
Use our Breastmilk Composition: What’s in a Day?™ Display
to explain why breastmilk is a baby’s optimal first food.


  • Breastfed babies may be more likely to try and accept new foods. Eating a wide variety of nutritious foods, including fruits and vegetables, can play a vital role in maintaining a healthy body weight over a lifetime. Breastmilk includes flavors from the foods the mother eats, so a mother who eats a wide variety of healthy foods can influence her child’s tastes. The taste of formula, unlike breastmilk, never varies, which means a formula-fed infant does not get exposed to the variety of tastes that a breastfed baby experiences.

Our English/Spansih Breastfeeding Tear Pad is a great handout
to explain the importance of nutrition while breastfeeding.

More research is needed to shed light on the relationship between breastfeeding and a reduced risk of pediatric overweight. However, evidence suggests that, in addition to all of breastfeeding’s other great health benefits, breastfeeding may be an important tool in childhood obesity prevention.

To learn more about our breastfeeding education products, please visit our Breastfeeding Section.


©2018 Childbirth Graphics®