4 Ways Formula Feeding May Increase The Risk Of Obesity

4 Ways Formula Feeding May Increase The Risk Of Obesity

Leading health organisations such as Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the American Academy of Pediatrics  and the World Health Organization all recommend exclusive breastfeeding for around six months.

They also recommend solids to be introduced while breastfeeding continues for at least one year.

Health outcomes associated with infant feeding underpin such recommendations. For example, not being breastfed increases a baby’s risk of infection (gastrointestinal, respiratory and ear), SIDS and necrotising enterocolitis amongst premature babies.

In addition, not being breastfed increases the risk of overweight and obesity.

How Formula Feeding May Increase The Risk Of Obesity

How is it that formula feeding increases the risk of overweight and obesity? Here are 4 possible ways:

#1: Less Active Control Of Intake

When bottle feeding, a baby has less control over her intake as compared to when breastfeeding. This is because:

  • A baby cannot suck in a way where she doesn’t get milk on a bottle like she can at the breast (‘comfort’ sucking). When a firm bottle teat is placed inside a young baby’s mouth, it provides a strong stimulus for her to suck and sucking on a bottle equates to getting milk whether it’s needed or not.
  • The flow of milk from a bottle is more consistently faster as compared to from the breast.

#2: Formula Does Not Contain Leptin

Leptin is a hormone which helps regulate food intake. It’s present in breastmilk but not in formula.

The lack of leptin in formula may reduce a formula-fed baby’s self-regulation.

#3: Formula Contains More Protein

Formula has a higher protein content than breastmilk. This may contribute to more rapid growth of formula-fed babies as compared to breastfed babies. More rapid growth in infancy may increase the risk of overweight and obesity later in life.

Australia’s NHMRC recommends formula-fed babies be fed with a formula with a lower protein content for this reason.

For more information about protein in formula see BellyBelly’s article here.

#4: Babies May Be Encouraged To ‘Finish The Bottle’

Formula tins come with instructions about how much and how often to feed babies of different ages. This may prompt parents to encourage their baby to finish all the milk in the bottle even if they don’t need it.

Fortunately there are ways to help reduce the risk of overweight and obesity amongst babies who are formula fed. Here are 4 tips in this regard:

  • Feed your baby according to her own individual need. You can read here about how to do this.
  • Use a paced bottle feeding method to help your baby control her intake. You can read about this here.
  • Use a smaller bottle. This might help your baby regulate her intake better.
  • Choose a formula with a lower protein content. This may assist with a slower rate of growth.

It’s important to note that just because a baby is formula fed doesn’t guarantee she will end up overweight or obese but it may be one factor associated with an increased risk.

Likewise, breastfeeding is not magic, it’s just one possible factor amongst many that may influence one’s weight.

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Renee Kam IBCLC CONTRIBUTOR

Renee Kam is mother to Jessica and Lara, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a physiotherapist, author of 'The Newborn Baby Manual' and an Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor. In her spare time, Renee enjoys spending time with family and friends, horse riding, running and reading.


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