Positives of Breastfeeding in regards to Obesity and Allergies

Positives of Breastfeeding in regards to Obesity and Allergies

Positives of Breastfeeding in regards to Obesity and Allergies

New research has shown that the probiotics found in breast milk may play an important role in developing a healthy gut flora and that breastfeeding can reduce the risk of childhood obesity by about 20% compared to non-breastfed infants. The research which was presented at the Nestle Nutrition Institute Satellite Symposium shows that breastfeeding has significant implication for the general health of Australian infants.

The recent findings are important because more than 50% of Australian adults and more than 20% of Australian children (2-17 years of age) are classified as overweight or obese, showing the significance of early nutrition, specifically breastmilk, as a means to combating the growing waistline of Australians. Professor Berthold V Koletzko presented research which showed that breastfeeding has a lower protein intake which when associated with breastfeeding seems to help reduce the risk of later life obesity.

Whilst obesity has increased so has the rate of allergies in recent years. In Australian 40% of infants are considered to be at high risk of developing allergies as one of their close relatives has allergies. Due to the high risk of allergies extreme effort should be undertaken to reduce this risk in every way. Research has also shown that breastfeeding for the first 4-6 months appears to be the best way to minimise the risk of allergies. If a mother chooses not to breastfeed, a hypoallergenic (allergen reduced) infant formula is the best choice. Choosing a hypoallergenic formula reduces the risk of skin related allergies, such as eczema, by one-third of those fed on regular infant formula.

Professor Maria Makrides is the Director for the Child Nutrition Research Centre, a joint venture between CHRI, Flinders Medical Centre (FMC), and Children and Youth and Women's Health Service. Receiving her PhD from the Flinders University of South Australia, Professor Markrides has since gone on to have an influential involvement in the study of infant nutrition in Australia. She is an affiliate senior lecturer in the discipline of Paediatrics, at the School of Paediatrics and Reproductive Health, University of Adelaide and is a member of both the Dieticians Association of Australia and the Nutrition Society of Australia.

Interview with Professor Maria Makrides
Question: Why it is that breastfeeding has so many positives over infant formula?

Professor Maria Makrides: That's a big question. It is a milk that was specifically designed to feed little humans. So nature and evolution has been working on it for millions of years. And there are so many other positives apart from the nutrients, hormones, and immune factors that actually also have the potential to stimulate the growth of the baby as well. And finally it actually is part of, or can be linked, to be a part of the bonding and attachment process that happens between mother and child.

Question: Would you suggest breastfeeding over all formulas?

Professor Maria Makrides: Well the main reason it is suggested over formulas is the superior nutrition design and also the outcomes of breast fed babies, do tend to, often, have more positives over formulas. So I guess the role of infant formula basically means, a fake substitute of breast milk when breast milk is not available for whatever reason.

Question: One of the positives, shown with recent study, is the 20% decrease in obesity in breastfed babies, will this encourage breastfeeding through the response to this research? Will this hopefully help decline the obesity rates?

Professor Maria Makrides: The research that Professor Berthold V Koletzko presented at the seminar is certainly suggestive that you may end up with a reduction in the risk of obesity of 20%. And clearly that is an important public health issue, but it also, I don't want to denigrate the research in any way, but it doesn't actually also take away from the need to eat well and healthily. Just breast feeding is not going to cancel out the need to, as the child grows, encourage them to have a good and healthy lifestyle, be active and not to eat lots of junk food as well. There is a potential for a 20% reduction in obesity. But there is a lot of other factors there that might account for other things as well.

Question: With allergies increasing at such a high rate do you believe new parents will be more careful in choosing a hypoallergenic formula?

Professor Maria Makrides: Yes, it is interesting in how the information gets to them. You want people to breastfeed and encourage them to breastfeed for as long as is practically possible for them. The issue of what is actually causing the rise of allergy rates is also something that is hugely complex, for example there are many other things in the environment apart from whether you are breast or formula fed. One of the most powerful things is exposure to cigarette smoke and that is where this other hypnosis is around about how our environment has also changed. So I think it could well be a factor, and if you are not breastfed and you are at high than normal risk, in other words you have a high family history of allergies either your father, your mother, your brother or your sister, then the research is also showing that you should use the formula that is hydrolysed,has had the protein hyrdrolysed and that will help reduce the allergy risk. It changes the way the protein is basically structured from the cow's milk that is used to construct the formula and breast milk is mostly human based protein, although there are other small amounts of protein that come through, they are actually quite different to the cow's milk based one. If you are at higher than normal risk because of your family history then you should breastfeed and if breastfeeding is not possible, you should be using one of the hydrolysed formulas.

Question: What is the average time suggested for a mother to breastfeed?

Professor Maria Makrides: The World Heath Organisation would say up to two years, and many other countries up to one to two years. Most of the studies that people that actually done have looked at the duration of feeding, suggest that woman should breast feed exclusively for at around six months. There are different views about whether exclusive means the exclusion of formula or where it means the exclusion of other solid foods, and things like that. But children will need, other solid food from somewhere between four and six months to compliment their diets.

Question: So if a new born is around cigarette smoke is that a higher risk to developing other allergies?

Professor Maria Makrides: It certainly seems to be a risk for asthma and respiratory conditions and I guess that is the other thing that adds to the layer of complexity in terms of being able to tease out breastfeeding or not. Women who chose to breast feed and breast feed for a long period of time generally don't smoke. And so you can see it gets quite difficult to decipher between the breast feeding or smoking.

Question: And in this time, what about alcohol consumption?

Professor Maria Makrides: Alcohol consumption, have looked at that from more of a developmental point of view rather than from, as far as I'm aware at least, rather than a point of view of developing allergies or obesity. Certainly alcohol during pregnancy is definitely not a good thing, because of the potential of interactions with the developing brain during those sensitive periods. But I familiar with any really high quality research that has looked at alcohol whilst breastfeeding in regards to allergies.

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