Does breast feeding affect growth?

January 15, 2018 | Press Releases & Announcements

Dr. Mary Schooling

Dr. Mary Schooling

Dr. Mary Schooling, a professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy (CUNY SPH), along with colleagues from China examined the association of breast feeding with infant growth and body mass index up to the age of 16. The work was published in the journal Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology.

Controversial findings concerning associations of breast feeding with growth have been reported. This study examined whether the associations of breast feeding with early growth trajectories and body mass index to 16 years differed by sex or age. This study was conducted in a unique population with little association of socio-economic position with breastfeeding.

The research team utilized the Hong Kong’s ‘Children of 1997’ population-representative birth cohort for this study. They classified contemporaneously reported breast-feeding status in the first 3 months as exclusive breast feeding (n = 470), mixed feeding (n = 2693), and formula feeding (n = 4204). They used linear regression and mixed modeling to assess adjusted sex- and age-specific associations of breast feeding with infant growth (gains in weight-for-age z scores, length/height-for-age z scores, and body-mass-index-for-age z scores based on the World Health Organization standards/references from birth to 36 months). The team used generalized estimating equations to assess adjusted sex-specific associations of breast feeding with average body-mass-index-for-age z score from 3 months to 16 years were assessed using generalized estimating equation. Potential confounders were maternal and infant characteristics, and household income.

Among 7367 children, as expected greater weight-for-age z scores gains were observed in exclusively breast fed infants from 0 to 3 months than in formula fed infants but greater gains were seen in formula fed than breast fed infants from 3 to 9 months. Breast feeding was not associated with overall body-mass-index-for-age z score from 3 months to 16 years, nor were any differences observed when adjusting for sex.

Dr. Schooling explains, “Breastfeeding has many benefits for mother and child, however protection against childhood adiposity does not appear to be among them.”

The research team concluded that their findings suggested that breast feeding may only have short-term effects on growth. They felt the need for further studies of the role of breast feeding in other metabolic diseases would be a logical next step.