Breastfeeding And Bottle Feeding 'Make Babies Obese', Studies Suggest: Here's What Parents Need To Know

Parents reading the papers today were left pondering how best to feed their babies as two news stories made bold claims, reporting both breastfeeding and bottle feeling can contribute to obesity in babies.

One article in The Mirror states "breastfeeding will increase the chances of your baby being overweight" because of two sugary carbohydrates found in breast milk.

A second article published in the Daily Mail had the headline: Bottle feeding is making babies fat. It claimed many bottle feeding parents are overfeeding their babies because they are distracted by their phones.

Two separate articles claim both bottle feeding and breastfeeding can make a baby 'obese'

"I think the articles are trying to scare mums more than anything," Lisa Clegg, maternity nurse and founder of The Blissful Baby Expert told HuffPost UK Parents.

"If a baby isn't hungry it will refuse to feed, making it very clear to the parent that it definitely does not want any more milk by pushing the milk away, moving their head away from the bottle or breast and clamping their mouth shut."

In the study the Mirror reported on, which claimed breastfeeding can make a baby overweight, scientists identified two sugary carbohydrates in breast milk which "increased a baby’s risk of being obese at six months".

The ­University of Southern ­California studied 25 mother and baby pairs and found the carbohydrate called human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) was a key factor linked to infant obesity.

Two specific HMOs were each associated with around one pound of extra fat mass at six months of age, but it is not known whether genetic factors or diet were responsible for the composition of the mothers' breast milk.

"It's a bizarre piece of research," Jacque Gerrard, the Royal College of Midwives' director for England told HuffPost UK Parents.

"There is an overwhelming plethora of evidence supporting the health benefits of breastfeeding, showing it can prevent diabetes and obesity as babies grow older.

"This is a very small study so how can you draw conclusions from it? We always support women who breastfeed, because of the benefits for both mum and baby."

Gerrard also pointed out that the article focused on breastfeeding impacting a baby's weight, but this is not the case. She explained the way you feed your baby won't make them obese while they are a baby, but it could contribute to obesity as they grow older.

A second study, reported in the Daily Mail, suggested bottle feeding is "making babies fat" because mothers who are distracted by their phones end up overfeeding their children.

California Polytechnic University researchers said that just as TV dinners lead adults to eat without thinking, multi-tasking mothers may be guilty of 'mindless feeding'.

They quizzed 41 women with young babies about what they did during bottle feeds, with 83% admitting they multi-tasked by watching TV, playing on computers or their mobile phones.

Researchers called this a "technology trap", distracting new mothers and stopping them from noticing when their child has had enough milk.

Gerrard said if a mother is taught properly how to feed her baby with formula milk, then bottle feeding shouldn't lead to any problem with their child's weight.

She argued the study is less about the distraction and more about what their babies are drinking.

"A mother choosing to formula feed her baby will get every bit of support to do that from midwives to ensure their baby gets the right quality of formula and follow exactly the instructions on that packet," she explained.

"That's the difficult part - if they don't get taught properly how to make an exact quantity, it can cause complications for babies in the longer term."

With such contradictory advice doing the rounds, it's hard for new parents to know what's best for their baby.

Clegg reiterated parents should understand a baby will let their mum or dad know when they have had enough milk.

"Many people don't give newborn and young babies credit for how clever they really are from a young age," she said.

"A baby will not feed if they are not hungry and that goes for bottle and breastfed babies.

"I work with babies every single day and all of varying ages - the one thing they all have in common is that they know how much they want to eat and when.

"It's a natural instinct they are born with and from one baby to the next, their appetites will vary dramatically."

Clegg said neither study has taken into account the impact of genetics on the weight and build of a baby, adding that it is later on, when a parent has begun weaning their baby, that will have an impact on their weight.

"In the first six months when only milk is offered, parents need to stop being so pressured by yet another article or study telling them they will make their baby obese if they offer too much milk," she added.

"I encourage mums to trust their own instinct on how much milk their baby needs and listen to their individual baby and not research like this.

"Even siblings will have different appetites - how your first baby liked to feed in frequency and amounts is likely to be different to subsequent babies you have."