The research, which began as an intentional study in 1996, followed 15,000 mothers in Belarus. At that time, breastfeeding was not popular among Belarusian moms. Researchers separated the moms-to-be into two groups, ones who gave birth in hospitals (and received training designed to encourage breastfeeding), and the other group who also gave birth in hospitals but did not receive any extra support. After three months, 43% of the babies in the first group (whose mothers received breastfeeding training and support) were breastfed, compared to the 6% from the second group (where mothers received no training or support).
From their 1996 births — researchers began to follow the babies. Researchers studied the babies after their first year of life, again when they were all 6 1/2 and again when they were all 11 1/2. What they determined from these visits was that breastfed babies had fewer gastrointestinal infections, less eczema and higher IQs (about 7.5 points higher than the babies from the second group, who were formula-fed).
When it came to allergies, asthma, dental cavities and obesity — there was no difference between the two groupings.
Now, the latest report — published in the Journal of the American Medical Association — has released the information gathered from the 11 1/2 year old participants from the 1997 study. Researchers have still found no changes in weight and body fat between those babies who were breastfed and those who were formula-fed. From both groups, researchers gathered that 15% of the children were overweight, with 5% considered obese.
According to the study's lead author, Dr. Richard Martin (also a professor of clinical epidemiology at the University of Bristol in the U.K.), "There's a lot of other evidence out there to continue to support breastfeeding. But in terms of breastfeeding reducing obesity, it's unlikely to be effective." He also went on to say that in terms of comparing the children's body mass index (BMI) the study revealed "absolutely nothing that was statistically significant."
So, why are these findings so important?
What researchers have found is that their conclusions contradict previous studies who found that breastfeeding reduces the rates of overweight or obese children. While in the past, experts believed that breastfed babies learn to eat until their full (as opposed to finishing the formula in the bottle) — the research gathered from the 11 1/2 year old children proves otherwise.
Martin says that the outcomes of this study shouldn't alter the existing recommendations for breastfeeding. What this study does do, however, is shed light on a false idea that breastfed babies will not grow up to be overweight or obese children, or that choosing to formula-fed your infant will cause them to struggle with their weight later in life.
Do these latest conclusions influence your decision to breastfeed?