Health Benefits of breastfeeding can last 20 years

Benefits of breastfeeding can last 20 years

Babies who are fed only breast milk for the first three months of life appear to be much more likely to maintain a healthy weight trajectory, with the benefits lasting up to early adulthood, new research from the University of Tasmania shows.

Professor Wendy Oddy, of the University of Tasmania’s Menzies Institute for Medical research, led the Australian section of the international study using data from the Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort (Raine) Study.

Researchers found that babies who had been entirely breast fed in the first three months of life and longer were almost twice as likely to maintain a healthy weight up to six years.

However, Professor Oddy expressed concern that around 45 per cent of children in the study had experienced rapid weight-related growth.

“Even though in most of the children the acceleration in growth slowed down at around 2.5 years of age, their Body Mass Index (BMI) remained high and was still significantly above normal at six years old,” Professor Oddy said.

The collection of data used in the Australian part of the study began more than 20 years ago, which enabled researchers to follow up more than 1,000 children as young adults. They measured weight, height, skin fold and fat mass measurements and found an association between rapid growth at six years and overweight and obesity at 20 years.

“Our observations indicate that if full breast feeding stops before three months of age, children are at greater risk of becoming overweight, even through to 20 years of age,” Professor Oddy said.

“This adds to the existing World Health Organisation evidence that, if possible, mothers should aim to fully breastfeed their baby beyond three months, and ideally, fully breastfeed until six months and beyond up to two years of age.”

The Raine Study is a highly successful multi-generational longitudinal study which started in 1989 and is supported by several Western Australian universities.

Read more about the research findings here. Story credit: University of Tasmania newsroom.

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