When it comes to infant-feeding methods, the argument centers around breast milk versus formula. But despite the research clearly favoring breast milk, there’s more to the story: It’s not just what you feed your baby, but also how.
The age-old claim is “breast is best,” but as CNN reported, a new study differentiates the benefits of the act of breastfeeding compared to bottle-feeding pumped breast milk. The two are not the same.
More than 2,500 infants were included in the study as part of the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) project. The purpose of the paper, published in Pediatrics, was to share the effect of breast milk-feeding method on an infant’s propensity toward obesity.
Previous research yielded inconsistent results regarding breast milk’s protection against obesity among infants.
“Other data has shown quite nicely that if you have an elevated BMI early on in life, it sets you up for childhood and then adolescent obesity later in life,” Lars Bode, director of the University of San Diego’s Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation Mother-Milk-Infant Center of Research Excellence, told CNN.
CHILD researchers found the lowest BMI scores at 1 year old to be those babies who were exclusively breastfed and then started on solid foods at about 5 to 6 months while continuing to be breastfed without any formula supplementation. The data further revealed that babies who stopped breastfeeding before 6 month had triple the risk of being overweight by 1 year old.
“Our study also found that the method of feeding breast milk matters,” said Meghan Azad, a CHILD study investigator from the University of Manitoba, in a press release. “Feeding expressed breast milk from a bottle appeared to have a weaker beneficial effect on infant weight compared with direct feeding at the breast, although expressed milk was still beneficial compared to infant formula.”
Babies fed at the breast are not only able to self-regulate milk intake better than on the bottle, she added, but there is also some breakdown in breast milk’s compositions during freezing, thawing, and reheating pumped breast milk.
Still, this news doesn’t mean mothers who are pump-dependent because they’re babies do not latch or who are using the pump part-time in order to return to work or manage other separations need to feel guilty. Expressed breast milk is far superior to formula any day, researchers say.
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And for the many moms who need to rely on giving some formula to their breastfed babies, take heart: Any amount of breast milk is good. While the benefits of breastfeeding increase the more and longer you do it, there are some benefits available no matter how long or short your breastfeeding journey is.
Dr. Azad wanted to make that clear, telling CNN that the way forward is not pressuring moms to breastfeed over pumping but rather to focus on better support to all new mothers regardless of their choice or need of how to give their baby breast milk.
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