A new study by Deakin University researchers has identified a fascinating link between babies who are breastfed beyond six months and body mass index (BMI) in the first five years of life.
Lead author Dr ‘Jazzmin’ Miaobing Zheng, a research fellow in Deakin’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), said her study was the first to examine the relative impact of how long a baby is breastfed for and the introduction of solids on children’s growth patterns over time.
The study was published in the Obesity journal.
“We found children who were breastfed for more than six months had a healthier body weight from ages three months to five years, compared to those breastfed for less than six months,” she said.
“That includes any breastfeeding, even if occasional or supplemented with formula.
“The beneficial effects of longer breastfeeding duration also remained evident after accounting for a child’s birth weight, maternal factors like education level and pre-pregnancy body weight status.”
Dr Zheng said the study’s findings identified a possible avenue to address Australia’s unprecedented levels of childhood overweight and obesity.
“Right now, one in five Australian kids under five are above a healthy weight, and these children have a higher likelihood of overweight and obesity later in life,” she said.
Data for the Deakin study was collected from 542 children.
Dr Zheng said it was important to consider the potential barriers to breastfeeding past six months, including a mother’s earlier return to work, cultural expectations and practices, and community support.
“It’s also important to acknowledge that for some women breastfeeding or prolonged breastfeeding may not be possible,” she said.
“But overall our findings strongly endorse current policies, public health campaigns, and interventions that seek to promote and support breastfeeding.”