Breastfed babies follow a different growth pattern to those who drink formula milk, which is likely to have future health benefits, according to a study.
Breast milk lowers levels of growth hormone and insulin in the blood, which slows the rate of growth even after the baby has started on solid foods. Slower weight gain is known to encourage healthier eating patterns of children.
Breastfeeding may help cut the child from the risk of developing diabetes and becoming obese later in life.
On the other hand, formula milk may increase the production of fat cells, which encourages weight gain for babies throughout their childhood.
The results come from analysis of a wider study of diet and well-being following 330 children at nine, 18 and 36 months.
‘We can see that breastfeeding has a significant, measurable effect on the important growth regulators in the blood and insulin. The more times the child was breastfed, the lower the hormone levels,’ said Anja Lykke Madsen, a member of the research team.
The findings from the Faculty of Life Sciences at Copenhagen University in Denmark also suggest that the longer the period of breastfeeding, the lower a child’s weight at the age of 18 months.
Research has shown that breast milk protects babies against stomach bugs, chest infections, asthma, eczema, and allergies, and appears to bring general health advantages in later life.
Breastfeeding can help new mothers to regain their shape, by burning an extra 500 calories a day. The Department of Health recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life.
It can also reduce the risk of pre-menopausal breast and ovarian cancer and osteoporosis in mothers.
In Sweden, 98 percent of new mothers breastfeed while in Britain, by four months old, 75 per cent of babies drink formula rather than breast milk.
However, the new results show that breastfeeding also affects levels of growth hormone and insulin at nine months, at a time when the children are well into eating solids. The longer the children were breastfed, the lower their weight at 18 months.’
Professor Kim Fleischer Michaelsen, of Copenhagen University, said: ‘It is well known that children who are breastfed grow slightly more slowly than children who are given formula, and it looks as if this growth pattern is optimal because it reduces the risk of developing lifestyle diseases later in life.