UPBEAT: breastfeeding and obesity

Dr Annette Briley, Professor Lucilla Poston, Mr Paul Seed, Ms Claire Singh, Professor Debra Bick

Researchers supported by Tommy’s have found a link between BMI and the length of time women are likely to go on breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding has plenty of benefits for both mother and child, and the World Health Organisation recommends feeding entirely by breast for the first 6 months after birth. It helps new mothers lose baby weight put on during pregnancy, and lowers the chances of obesity when the baby is older. However, there is evidence that heavier women are less likely to breastfeed, and those that do tend to carry on for a shorter time. This may have effects on the child – studies in a group known as the Millennium Cohort suggest that introducing solid foods early is related to children being overweight at 3 years old.

We looked at obese women who took part in UPBEAT to find out how many women intended to breastfeed, how many began breastfeeding, and how long they continued for. Women were split into three classes of obesity using BMI (a BMI of over 30 is considered obese, while over 40 is severely obese).

So far, the results show that many women planned to breastfeed and started doing so, regardless of BMI. However, the length of time that women went on exclusively breastfeeding was linked with obesity. Women with a BMI of over 35 stopped feeding only by breast faster than women with lower BMIs, and were also less likely to still be breastfeeding at 6 months. Researchers also found that women who were still breastfeeding at 6 months kept far less baby weight than mothers who stopped earlier.

Crucially, this is the first study to show that amongst women who are obese, breast feeding can play an important role in weight reduction.

This study will help us find ways of increasing the number of obese women who breastfeed by raising awareness of the health benefits for both mother and baby. As a result of this study, we also plan to carry out more research on ways of encouraging obese women to breastfeed.

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This study takes place in a Tommy's centre and is funded by Tommy's, the National Institute for Health Research, Chief Scientist Office Scotland and Guy's and St Thomas' Charity

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