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Overweight mothers are more likely to give up breastfeeding within the first week

Overweight mothers are more likely to give up on breastfeeding their newborn baby within the first week, a study has revealed.

NHS guidance advises that babies are exclusively fed the ‘natural’ way for the first six months of their life.

But a quarter of overweight mothers – who have a BMI of over 25 – give up after just seven days, scientists found. In comparison, the rate is 18 per cent for those of a healthy weight.

Britain has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world, despite repeated government campaigns designed to encourage women.

Researchers suggest body image issues or finding it difficult to produce enough milk could be to blame for overweight women being put off.

The authors of the new paper say campaigns should be targeted at obese women, who may be keen on breastfeeding but struggle to do so.

NHS guidance advises that babies are exclusively fed the ‘natural’ way for the first six months of their life

Data from more than 17,000 mothers was analysed for the study, led by the London School of Economics and the University of Auckland.

They found mothers of all sizes were just as likely to begin breastfeeding.

But overweight mothers were shown to be more likely to stop within a week – and less likely to continue past the four month mark.

The study showed 18 per cent of healthy weight mothers cease within the first week, compared to 26 per cent of overweight ones.

And 38 per cent of healthy mothers continued beyond four months, compared to 32 per cent of overweight ones. The rate was lower for obese mothers.

The researchers, who were led by Dr Tammy Campbell at LSE, were baffled as to why the patterns existed.

However, writing in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, they said ‘body image may play a part in breastfeeding behaviours’.

Dr Campbell and colleagues also suggested overweight women may be less able to produce milk, and may be discouraged.


Breastfeeding reduces the risk of endometriosis by up to 40 percent and of ovarian cancer by up to 91 percent, according to recent studies.

Naturally feeding for a total of three or more years across a women’s life reduces her risk of developing the painful gynecological disorder by nearly 40 percent, a study found.

For every three additional months a woman breastfeeds per pregnancy, her risk of getting endometriosis is lowered by eight per cent, while exclusively feeding naturally decreases the chance of a diagnosis by 14 percent, the research added.

This is thought to be due to hormonal changes that occur during breastfeeding as women temporarily stop having periods. 

Natural feeding also alters the release of certain hormones, such as oxytocin and estrogen, which may determine a woman’s risk of the disorder.

Endometriosis occurs when tissue from the womb lining occurs elsewhere in the body. It affects approximately 10 percent of women in the US and commonly causes pelvic pain, discomfort during sex and heavy periods.

Breastfeeding was also tied to risk reductions of up to 91 percent for ovarian cancer, according to another study. 

Similar to its effects on endometriosis, scientists believe that breastfeeding helps to prevent cancer by delaying ovulation, during which cell mutations can lead to cancer. 

A third theory the team of researchers put forward was that a ‘delayed onset of lactation’ could perhaps ‘result in early cessation’.

Commenting on the study, Dr Campbell said: ‘Improving breastfeeding rates has been a priority for successive governments.

‘So our findings can provide some tentative indications of one group of mothers who could potentially be helped.’

She added that breastfeeding decisions and behaviours are ‘complex’ and ‘nuanced’ – but rates of initiation are similar among all women.

Dr Campbell said: ‘We speculate a substantial proportion of overweight women are likely to want to breastfeed – but have more difficulty doing so.’

‘We would like to emphasise, though, that this support really does need to be good quality – practical and sensitive, for those who want it.

Writing in the journal, the researchers added: ‘BMI at first antenatal appointment is easily and reliably measured.

‘By prioritising overweight mothers for breastfeeding support… services may reach those less likely to continue breastfeeding.’

A separate analysis of the data also found breastfeeding rates varied considerably by ethnicity, with it being the highest among black Africans.

Breast milk contains antibodies passed on from the mother, which boost a baby’s immune system and help it fight infections and viruses.

There is also evidence that breastfed babies have higher IQs and are less at risk of obesity – because formula milk is higher in fat.

Breastfeeding is also deemed beneficial for the mother because it enables her to bond with the newborn.

It also enables her to lose weight, as nursing mothers burn up to 500 calories a day extra, according to studies.

Yet despite numerous ‘breast is best’ campaigns by the Government and the NHS, rates have barely improved in recent years.

Just 34 per cent of babies in the UK are breastfed until they are six months, according to data from Unicef released back in May.