Study: Breastfeeding May Program an Infant’s Metabolism

The benefits of breastfeeding have been linked to long-term prevention of various illnesses including asthma, diabetes and obesity. Now, a study, which was presented yesterday at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Denver, shows that the ‘liquid gold’ may have a lasting impact on metabolism.

French researchers looked at three years of data following 234 children and how they were fed after birth. The babies were split into 3 groups; infants who received only breast milk for the first four months of life, infants who were fed a low-protein formula and those who were fed high-protein formula.

The study showed that children who received breast milk for the first four months had a specific pattern of growth and metabolic profile that differed from the formula-fed babies. Even at 15 days of life, the breast-fed infants had blood insulin levels that were lower than the formula-fed infants.

The breast-fed infants also had different growth patterns during their first year of life, but by the third year, there were no differences in length, weight or body composition (fat. vs. lean mass). The exception was head circumference, which was slightly lower in the low-protein formula group but still well within the normal range.

“It appears that formula feeding induces differences in some hormonal profiles as well as in patterns of growth compared with breast-feeding,” study co-author Dr. Guy Putet said in an American Academy of Pediatrics news release. “The long-term consequences of such changes are not well-understood in humans and may play a role in later health. Well-designed studies with long-term follow-up are needed.”

If breastfeeding is not possible, Dr. Putet concluded, infants should be fed formulas that allow a growth pattern and a metabolic profile similar to that of breastfed infants.

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Lisa Arneill

Mom of 2 boys and founder of and World Traveled Family. When I'm not running around after my boys, I'm looking for our next vacation spot!

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