And for the formula-fed babies, that’s not a good thing. What researchers found worried them, as they said it could help predict obesity in children.
The randomized study of 1,000 children followed them for 2 years, comparing those fed “regular” formula and low protein formula with breastfeeding babies.
Kids who had used the low protein formula were approximately the same height as those fed the higher protein formula, but the latter group weighed more. Kids with low-protein formula weighed closer to what the breastfed babies weighed.
Researchers say that a few things should probably change…
Researchers are taking the findings to suggest that breastfeeding is top priority:
These results…underline the importance of promoting and supporting breastfeeding because of the long-term benefits it brings. They also highlight the importance of the continual development and improvement in the composition of infant formula.
Limiting the protein content of infant and follow-on formula can normalise early growth and might contribute greatly to reducing the long-term risk of childhood overweight and obesity.
Other researchers disagree, pointing out that many formula manufacturers have already lowered the protein content since the study ended in 2004. (But not the levels of melamine or rocket fuel, apparently.) They’re also not sure about the long-term health effects of low protein formula versus “regular” formula.
So should infant formula contain less protein? More research is needed, obviously, and some say that we should be following these groups into adulthood to get a better picture of the formula/obesity link if any.
The UK is responding with a new growth chart, focused only on the patterns of breastfeeding babies. I’m sure you know all about those growth charts, the ones that some parents at the playground cite with expertise:
My child is 95th percentile in height, 90th in weight, and soon will take after me in the useless information category at 100th percentile.
Any good pediatrician will tell you that those percentiles don’t matter; that it’s a way for docs to track whether your baby’s growth jumps or drops precipitously. The healthiest kids could be in the 10th percentile their whole lives. Just as my nephew, who has been consistently in the 100th percentile for weight (and was an extended breastfeeder, too) is simply freakishly tall like his Auntie Cate a head taller than anyone else his age, and therefore weighs more. Different kids grow differently, and this is just one snapshot of a child’s health.
Perhaps the doctors in the United States can also look at the growth differences in these groups and reassess the growth charts.
Or perhaps we can collectively give a big “Atta Girl!” to breastfeeders by extending maternity (and paternity) leave, encouraging women to bring babies to work in appropriate environments, and giving mothers as many “pumping breaks” as we do those who jones for a cigarette. Just saying.
Image: pfly on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.