Increasing Breastfeeding Initiation, Duration, and Exclusivity

Studies show that the duration of breastfeeding is inversely related to childhood obesity. This means that the longer children are breastfed, the less likely they are to become obese later in childhood. Some studies suggest that EXCLUSIVE breastfeeding has a greater protective effect than does breastfeeding supplemented with formula feeding. Exclusive breastfeeding means that ONLY human milk is fed to the baby for the first six months of life. No infant formula and no cereal is fed to the baby during this period.

The mechanism that links breastfeeding to a reduced risk of childhood obesity is not yet understood. Many researchers believe that breastfeeding a child promotes brain development that is more sensitive to physiological signals of fullness (referred to as “satiety”) so that breastfed children regulate their food intake better than formula fed babies – in other words they are less likely to overeat or to eat when they are not hungry. What is known is that breastfeeding has many nutritional, immunological, and psychological benefits for babies’ health. Breastfed infants have fewer infections and illnesses and fewer hospitalizations. Because breast milk is free, breastfeeding provides economic benefits for mothers; and because it involves no bottles or cans, if provides environmental benefits for society as a whole.

The American Academy of Pediatrics1 recommends that, unless there is a medical contra-indication, infants should be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life, and they should continue breastfeeding until at least 12 months of age. There is no upper limit to the amount of time a child should breastfeed as long as it is mutually desired by both mother and child; there is no evidence of psychological or developmental harm associated with breastfeeding into the third year of life.

Evidence-based strategies for promoting breastfeeding can be found in The CDC Guide to Breastfeeding Interventions (pdf)

For more information on the evidence that breastfeeding is associated with obesity prevention, see Does Breastfeeding Reduce the Risk of Pediatric Overweight? (pdf)

1 American Academy of Pediatrics. Policy Statement: Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Available at:; Accessed January 5, 2011.

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