Breast-feeding is well known to give lasting health benefits to newborns, and increasing evidence suggests that it is also healthy for new mothers. A new study adds to the research, showing that mothers who breast-feed lose weight and body fat more quickly in the first months after pregnancy than mothers who incorporate formula and solid foods.
The study, published in the International Breastfeeding Journal, included 24 healthy women in week 36 or later in their pregnancy upon entering the study. They answered questions about their diet, exercise habits, and infant feeding practices, and had weight and body fat measurements taken at the beginning of the study and at intervals until 12 weeks postpartum.
Moms’ feeding choices affect their weight
Seventeen of the women began breast-feeding their babies immediately after birth and breast-fed exclusively, while seven included some infant formula in their feeding regime beginning right after birth. Women who chose exclusive breast-feeding lost more weight and lost it more quickly than those who chose a mixed feeding regime. Although the breast-feeding mothers ate more calories than the mixed feeding mothers, they lost an average of 9.7 pounds (4.41kg), while mixed feeding mothers lost an average of 6.14 pounds (2.79 kg). The breast-feeding mothers’ percent body fat also decreased during the early postpartum period, but the mixed feeding mothers’ did not.
These results align with previous research showing that breast-feeding leads to more weight loss during the early postpartum period than formula feeding. The greatest differences in weight loss in this and previous studies were seen at three months after delivery.
Setting mothers up for long-term health
“Our findings show that the practice of exclusive breast-feeding can help postpartum women rapidly lose both weight and body fat that accrue during pregnancy compared to non-exclusive breastfeeding mothers,” said study senior author Dr. Alex Anderson of the Department of Foods and Nutrition at the University of Georgia. “The study clearly shows the importance of encouraging and supporting mothers to breast-feed exclusively.”
By helping postpartum women recover their prepregnancy weight and body composition, exclusive breast-feeding can reduce their risk of overweight and obesity, and might protect them against heart disease and other chronic conditions.
More reasons to breast-feed
In addition to helping new moms regain their figures, breast-feeding has well-documented benefits for newborns:
• Lowers risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome)
• Reduces the likelihood of developing allergies
• Provides immune cells that help babies fight infections, including chest and ear infections
• Supports healthy neurological development
Maureen Williams, ND