The health benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and babies are widely known -- studies have shown it may improve cognitive development among children and could reduce a woman's risk of getting breast cancer or cardiovascular disease. But new research suggests that very obese woman may not breast feed as much or for as long as their normal-weight counterparts.
The study, released in the January issue of the journal Obesity, looked at information about 3,517 white women and 2,846 black women who were part of the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System from 2000 to 2005.
Among the participants, 7.1% of the white women and 5.3% of the black women were underweight; 53.8% of the white women and 39.5% of the black women were normal weight; 20.9% of the white women and 28.3% of the black women were overweight; 10.5% of the white women and 15.6% of the black women were obese; and 7.7% of the white women and 11.3% of the black women were very obese.
Overall, a greater number of white women (67.2%) than black women (41.2%) initiated breastfeeding, and white women breastfed for longer periods compared to black women. Among white women, breastfeeding was highest among those who were normal weight and went down as their pre-pregnancy body mass indexes rose, with very obese white women having lower odds of beginning breastfeeding than normal-weight white women. Among black women BMI was not a factor in beginning to breastfeed.
BMI was also relevant in breastfeeding duration. Very obese white women had on average the shortest period of breastfeeding while normal-weight white women had the longest. Among white women the odds of breastfeeding at 10 weeks decreased as their BMIs increased.
The authors point to other studies that show overweight and obese women may have a harder time breastfeeding than women of normal weight and they urge that overweight and obese women as well as black women may need more guidance to start breastfeeding.
-- Jeannine Stein
Photo credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times