Around P4HC, we are eagerly anticipating Surgeon General Regina Benjamin’s call to action to support breastfeeding. Her announcement will explain steps to family members, communities, health care professionals and employers to make breastfeeding an easy choice for mothers. It’s been proven that breastfed babies have fewer ear infections, respiratory infections, meningitis, diarrhea, and constipation and also have a lower risk of allergies, asthma, obesity, diabetes, childhood leukemia and sudden infant death. Breast milk is powerful stuff, full of both nutrients and antibodies.
I’m super fascinated by this early link to childhood obesity. There’s a lot of money being invested in obesity prevention strategies, and it appears as though we should be starting really early, even before birth: supporting pregnant moms to breastfeed their babies. While we’re at it, let’s invest major resources in helping their partners, families, communities and worksites create the conditions to make nursing our babies easy and comfortable.
Why are breastfed babies less likely to be overweight as kids than bottle-fed babies? We’re still not entirely sure what’s protecting breastfed babies from being overweight. One theory that’s being explored in some pretty interesting research is that breastfed babies are better at self-regulation: controlling how much breast milk they consume. When they grow up, these kids are better at regulating how much food they eat. Kids who were breastfed are better at intuitively responding to their feelings of fullness. They can more easily determine when they’re full. This ability to self-regulate is really important.
Moms who breastfeed aren’t measuring a certain number of ounces per day and aren’t as concerned about maintaining a rigid feeding schedule. Babies are in the driver’s seat when it comes to eating. They are in control of how much they eat and tell mom when they’re hungry. This control is important later in childhood, too. (More on that from Jana in our next post.) Being in control allows babies to develop their own internal cues to signal when they feel full. If you’re bottle-feeding, there’s lots you can do, too. Think about infant-focused feeding practices. Putting your baby in control of how much and when she eats is a really good idea.