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A recent study published in the journal Paediatrics may help explain why the link between breastfeeding and preventing obesity is ambiguous. The study showed that what really helped prevent obesity was getting breast milk directly from the breast. That’s not to say that drinking expressed breast milk from a bottle isn’t healthy. After all, it’s the food that was explicitly designed for infants. But the act of breastfeeding — which includes skin-to-skin contact, the release of oxytocin, and the baby self-regulating how much milk they eat — appears to offer added benefits when it comes to preventing obesity. For mothers who are able to breastfeed directly, this new study offers reassurance that they are giving their children the best possible start in life.

Baby and childhood obesity is a growing problem in the developed world. And while there are a lot of factors that contribute to this epidemic, it seems that the way in which babies are fed is definitely one of them. Babies who are fed directly from the breast are less likely to be overfed. This is because when they are full, they stop sucking or switch to a “comfort” kind of sucking that doesn’t produce milk. On the other hand, when babies are fed from bottles, parents and caregivers are more likely to push them to finish the bottle. As a result, feeding becomes less about appetite and more about volume and schedule. Learning to eat only when you are hungry and stop when you are full is a really good skill when it comes to preventing obesity. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics has encouraged mothers to breastfeed their babies for as long as possible. Not only is it good for their health, but it also teaches them an important lesson about self-control.

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