We believe World Breastfeeding Week is the best time of year because the whole world focuses on our favorite topic: breastfeeding. This year’s theme, Breastfeeding, a key to sustainable development, reminds us that breastfeeding is about setting the stage and paving the path to a healthy future for our children. This week we’ve already talked about how breastfeeding promotes health and well-being for babies and mothers, is good for the environment, helps personal and global economies, and is sustainable even for mothers who return to work. Today we’re looking at breastfeeding and healthy eating for a lifetime.
Healthy eating habits may be one of the best preventative healthcare measures you can instill in your children, and it all starts with breastfeeding. Obesity is a major epidemic in the U.S. with estimates of up to 70% of the population being overweight or obese. Childhood obesity has doubled in the past 30 years. While we’re sure most parents would put their child’s health at the top of their wish list, clearly healthy eating is not a priority for most families.
Interestingly, studies show that breastfeeding positively influences healthy eating well beyond infancy in several ways. Researchers from Monell Chemical Senses Center discovered babies who are exposed to a variety of flavors in utero and through breast milk are predisposed to enjoying diverse flavors later in life. This means that mothers who eat a range of wholesome foods during pregnancy and while breastfeeding are passing along healthy eating habits inherently. This method seems a lot better than arguing with a 4-year-old to eat broccoli.
Furthermore, the Monell study concluded that the food a baby eats makes an emotional impression as well. So those exposed to healthy flavors will be more emotionally inclined to make healthier selections as they age. The study also showed that a child’s taste preferences are solidified in toddlerhood and changing these likes and dislikes is very difficult throughout childhood. Therefore the window of time to instill healthful eating is narrow.
A report from the CDC has more great news about breastfeeding and healthy eating habits for your child’s future. In their study, children who were breastfed for at least six months were more likely to make healthy food choices at age six including eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking more water and consuming less sugary drinks.
Yet another study from the NIH found breastfeeding helps form self-regulatory indicators for satiety that remain with a baby for their entire lives. Being able to self-regulate and stop eating when the body feels full is a crucial skill to avoid obesity. This research supports breastfeeding’s impact on metabolic imprinting.
Once babies reach six months of age, complimentary feeding of solids can begin. While this may not be your child’s first experience with flavor, it is his first direct experience with food. Starting your baby on healthy complimentary foods while continuing to breastfeed for at least one year is essential for establishing and maintaining a healthy diet for a lifetime. And chances are, if you want your child to truly absorb and adopt healthy eating habits, you need to model them yourself. Initiating a family-wide wholesome diet when your baby starts solids is a great way for the entire family to join together for the health of your baby.
Early introduction of a healthy diet shapes healthy eating habits for the future. You have the opportunity to be your child’s role model in many ways. Let healthy eating be one of them, starting with breastfeeding!
Sources: The New York Times, National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) and ABC News