Research reveals breastfed babies less likely to overeat during childhood

Swansea University research has revealed that babies who are breastfed are less likely to overeat and become overweight or obese during childhood.

A recent research study by the Department of Public Health and Policy Studies and Department of Psychology led by Dr Amy Brown, explored the role breastfeeding may play in reducing risk of childhood overweight and obesity and asked why breastfeeding may protect against this important health issue.

The current findings are part of a study examining the importance of feeding behaviours such as breastfeeding and timing of introduction to solid foods and longer term health outcomes for children.

Baby feeding research

The researchers compared ‘satiety responsiveness’, which is the ability to regulate appetite and only eat as much as needed, amongst toddlers aged 18 – 24 months depending on whether they were breast or formula fed.  The ability not to overeat in response to tasty foods or large portions is linked to being a healthier weight for both children and adults.he results showed that babies who were breastfed were described as better able to regulate their appetite and were less likely to be overweight as toddlers than babies who were formula fed. The longer they were breastfed for, the less likely they were to overeat which is likely to promote a healthier weight. This relationship was not explained by the mothers’ age, education or occupation.

Researchers point to a number of reasons why this might happen.

Dr Brown said: “Breastfeeding and formula feeding can be very different experiences for a baby. The amount of milk consumed during breastfeeding is often more baby-led whereas caregivers have more opportunity to control intake during formula feeding.

“Formula fed babies are more likely to be given set amounts of milk at specific intervals of the day whereas breastfed babies often take smaller, more frequent feeds which often don’t fit a specific routine.

“Also when a baby is formula fed the amount consumed is visible in a bottle which might encourage the caregiver to try and persuade the baby to finish all the milk in the bottle even if they are no longer hungry. Conversely it is very difficult to know how much milk a breastfed baby has drunk or to convince them to drink more than they want.”

Research has shown that even by a few days after birth formula fed babies are consuming many more calories than breastfed babies suggesting they may be drinking more than is needed.

Dr Brown said: “These early experiences might lead to breastfed babies having more opportunity to learn to only take as much milk as they need as they are more in control of their intake of milk. Breastfeeding may therefore encourage babies to learn to be ‘satiety responsive’ which reduces their risk of becoming overweight as children and adults.”