Preventing Weight Gain Through Breastfeeding for Both Mother and Child

Breast milk is healthier and optimal for babies and mothers when compared to formula milk for many different reasons, and from personal experience as well as findings from several studies, weight gain after birth can be prevented through breastfeeding for both mother and baby in its future life. [1]

It’s worth noting that besides weight loss, breastfeeding has so many other significant benefits for both the mother and the baby. However, in this article, I will only deal with breastfeeding and its effect on the weight of the mother and baby as it ages.

Breastfeeding is not an easy task to perform in the modern world. It requires the mother to commit herself full-time to the baby during the early months after birth, and this is not always possible for many mothers. Furthermore, aside from holding the baby for short periods, other people cannot really help the mother who does not get much free time during these early months after birth.  The mother’s breasts are both the pacifier and the sole source of nourishment for the baby. No-one else can help the mother when she is at this early breastfeeding stage. And for this reason it is not for everyone. But if you can delay personal gratification for a few months, nothing will do better for you and your baby’s health and body shape.

Weight Benefits for the Mother

Breastfeeding is beneficial for the mother as well as the baby. It forms a natural bonding between the mother and the baby which releases the hormone oxytocin also known as the “love” or “feel good” hormone in both the mother and baby. The release of oxytocin leads to substantial weight loss especially in overweight or obese mothers following birth. [2] 

The oxytocin also relaxes the mother, reducing stress levels, which are also a known factor that leads to weight gain especially after childbirth. This reduction in stress throughout the day with the constant release of the hormone oxytocin at every feed is a crucial factor in weight loss after pregnancy. 

Oxytocin is also involved in triggering the uterus to shrink back to pre-pregnancy size. When breastfeeding, this occurs much more quickly than if not breastfeeding. There are strong contractions while breastfeeding which may be quite uncomfortable during the first few weeks after birth, but these help to bring the body back to normal shape more quickly and naturally than when not breastfeeding.

Furthermore, A mother’s body requires more energy to breastfeed, an approximate additional 500 calories per day, and this is why many mothers, who are very busy with their newborns,  lose weight. Most mothers do not manage to consume sufficient energy in the form of food to replenish these increased needs. And although weight loss happens gradually after birth, it is consistent with breastfeeding mothers that do not provide pacifiers for their babies. But when a pacifier is provided, milk production decreases and this hinders the mother’s ability to produce sufficient milk for long-term breastfeeding. Weight loss of about 1 to 2.5 pounds (0.45 to 1.2 kilogram) a month is natural during first six months after birth for breastfeeding mothers, and more slowly, albeit still consistently after that point. It usually takes about eight months to lose all of the weight gained during pregnancy and allow the body to return to pre-pregnancy shape. But if the mother continues to breastfeed after this period, weight loss will also continue, although at a slower pace. [3] A study from the University of Pittsburgh conducted in 2010 suggested that breastfeeding also helps mothers lose the abdominal fat they gain during pregnancy. If the mother chooses not to breastfeed her baby or stops earlier than the recommended six months, the mother will hoard this abdominal fat which will lead her to suffer from increased health risks following the pregnancy. [3]

Animal studies also show that breastfeeding increases a mother’s response to insulin, allowing her to break down glucose more efficiently and maintain stable sugar metabolism which is very helpful at keeping a healthy weight.

Breastfeeding also reduces growth hormone activity, which will also affect weight gain after pregnancy.

Weight Benefits for the Baby in the Future

Most health authorities suggest breastfeeding for at least six months after birth. Some also recommend that even though the baby should start consuming other foods after this stage, the baby should still be breastfed for up to a whole year.

The baby gains weight from breastfeeding at the exact amount of weight it should gain. Most studies have shown that breastfed babies have lower rates of obesity by 15-30% when compared to babies who received formula. [4] Breast milk provides the baby with highly nutritious and easily digestible food, but also, babies who feed on the breast learn to develop healthy eating habits. 

The baby controls when it wants to eat and can decide how much to eat when breastfeeding due to the right leptin content in breast milk. This helps breastfed babies grow into adults that know how to regulate their food intake best and are therefore less at risk for obesity and weight gain as children or adults. On the other hand, formula fed babies are often encouraged to empty their bottle, which may override their internal satiety cues and result in poor self-regulation of food intake in the future. [5]

Researchers from Okayama University in Japan reported that among 43,300 Japanese children, those who were only breastfeeding at six to seven months were less likely to be overweight or obese at ages seven or eight compared to kids who drank formula milk. [6]

In a review of over 400 individual studies, breastfeeding was associated with a whole range of both short- and long-term health consequences including a reduction in the risk of obesity. [7,8]

Also, breastfeeding lowers future risk of obesity due to the subsequent development of a healthier gut microbiome. Formula-fed babies have been found to have an altered infant gut microbiome in favor of pro-inflammatory bacteria and increased gut permeability and bacterial load. Formula feeding was associated with altered intestinal microbiome characteristics at 3 months after birth. These findings linked formula feeding during early life with an altered microbiome and subsequent weight gain. [9] 

Conclusion

Breastfeeding undoubtedly affects the weight of the mother and the child, as well as the weight the child will have in the future. But these are not the only benefits of breastfeeding which are many for both mother and child. Thus, although not an easy task, I definitely recommend breastfeeding your baby for the first 6-8 months and if possible, continue up to one year. 

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References:

[1] Kajale NA, Chiplonkar SA, Khadilkar V, Khadilkar AV. Effect of Breastfeeding Practices and Maternal Nutrition on Baby’s Weight Gain During First 6 Months. J Obstet Gynaecol India. 2016;66(Suppl 1):335-9.

[2] Lawson EA. The effects of oxytocin on eating behaviour and metabolism in

humans. Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2017 Dec;13(12):700-709.

[3] Schwarz, Eleanor & Brown, Jeanette & Creasman, Jennifer & Stuebe, Alison & Mcclure, Candace & Van Den Eeden, Stephen & Thom, David. (2010). Lactation and Maternal Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: A Population-based Study. The American journal of medicine. 123. 863.e1-6. 10.1016/j.amjmed.2010.03.016.

[4]Krause KM, Lovelady CA, Peterson BL, Chowdhury N, Østbye T. Effect of breast-feeding on weight retention at 3 and 6 months postpartum: data from the North Carolina WIC Programme. Public Health Nutr. 2010 Dec;13(12):2019-26. doi:10.1017/S1368980010001503. Epub 2010 Jun 2. PubMed PMID: 20519049.

[5] Li R, Fein SB, Grummer-Strawn LM. Do infants fed from bottles lack self-regulation of milk intake compared with directly breastfed infants? Pediatrics. 2010 Jun; 125(6):e1386-93.

[6] Yan J, Liu L, Zhu Y, Huang G, Wang PP. The association between breastfeeding

and childhood obesity: a meta-analysis. BMC Public Health. 2014 Dec 13;14:1267. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-14-1267. PubMed PMID: 25495402; PubMed Central PMCID:

PMC4301835.

[7] Ip S, Chung M, Raman G, Chew P, Magula N, DeVine D, Trikalinos T, Lau J

Breastfeeding and maternal and infant health outcomes in developed countries. Evid Rep Technol Assess (Full Rep). 2007 Apr; (153):1-186.

[8] Arenz S, Rückerl R, Koletzko B, von Kries R. Breast-feeding and childhood obesity–a systematic review. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2004 Oct; 28(10):1247-56

[9] Elisabetta Mueller & Martin Blaser. Breast milk, formula, the microbiome and overweight. Nature Reviews Endocrinology. volume 14, pages 510–511 (2018)

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