Breast-feeding appears to program an infant’s metabolism, study says

Breastfeeding is universally recommended as the superior method for feeding infants because it’s linked to long-term prevention of various illnesses including asthma, diabetes and obesity. A study released Monday puts more emphasis on breastfeeding by showing it may have a lasting impact on metabolism.

French researchers analyzed three years of data following 234 children and how they were fed after birth. One group of children received only breast milk for the first four months of life. The other two groups were randomized to receive either a low-protein formula or a high-protein formula. Both of the formula types contained protein amounts that are within recommendations.

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.

By 3 years of age, many of the metabolic and growth differences between the breast-fed and formula-fed infants had disappeared. However, blood pressure readings were higher in the infants who had been fed the high-protein formula compared with breast-fed infants. The blood pressure rates were still within the normal range.

The study suggests that if breast-feeding is not possible, infants should be fed formula that has a metabolic profile as close to human breast milk as possible.


The study was presented Monday at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Denver.

Related: Solid food for infants should be carefully timed to lower obesity risk

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