Examining the link between obesity and breastfeeding success

Breastfeeding can be challenging even for mothers who have had kids before, but a new study shows that obese women are less likely to nurse. Learn more about what researchers found about how obesity affects breastfeeding.

It has long been maintained that breastfeeding your newborn can reduce the risks of childhood obesity, but now a story by LiveScience is reporting that obese women are less likely to breastfeed in the first place. According to the story, Dr. Teresa Orth, a maternal fetal medicine fellow at the Truman Medical Center in Kansas City, Mo., presented findings at the meeting of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists maintaining that obese women are 16% less likely to breastfeed than average-weight new mothers. In this study of 66,500 new mothers across 25 states between 2009 and 2010, researchers cannot determine the reason, but suggest a delay in milk ‘coming in’ one day later in obese women may contribute, along with problems with positioning to breastfeed and extra breast tissue.

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Breastfeeding challenges

Regardless of pre- or post-pregnancy weight, breastfeeding is challenging. But with the additional weight comes a few extra challenges. Other experts, like Kelly Hamade at Natural Beginning Birth Center, agree with the findings. “There are no problems that affect all obese women; however, obesity does increase the risk of… poor infant feeding and milk supply and decreased family support.”

OB/GYN Jessica A. Shepherd, MD of Herviewpoint.com suggests that obesity may be linked to decreased likelihood of new mothers breastfeeding due to physical reasons such as positioning the baby properly and preventing the extra breast tissue from covering the baby’s nose.

Tips for obese moms trying to breastfeed

The fact remains that both mommy and baby benefit from breastfeeding during the first six months of a newborn’s life, regardless of a woman’s weight. However, Hamade suggests those same benefits are especially valuable to obese and overweight women, including weight loss, improved blood pressure and reduced incidence of childhood obesity for the breastfed baby.

So what can we do to support a new mother’s right to breastfeed, especially during this delicate time postpartum?

Shepherd suggests, “…taking classes prior to delivery on breastfeeding tactics and expectations, using a lactation consultant after delivery for help with positioning and encouragement and using a breast pump when having difficulties.”

And while shedding the baby weight may be front-of-mind for any new mom, Dr. Draion M. Burch, DO warns that dieting can poorly affect your milk supply and cause you to have low energy. Losing weight gradually is best for both you and your bundle of joy.

In addition, Hamade suggests using a rolled-up towel or pillow to support the newborn or your breast during a feeding. Supporting the breast can encourage the nipple to evert and make it easier for Baby to latch on.

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Although it’s not known exactly why obesity affects breastfeeding, “breastfeeding is still possible for those who may be overweight or obese and should not be disregarded and rather encouraged,” says Shepherd. “Breastfeeding should be considered strongly as it has been shown to protect babies against stomach bugs, chest infections, asthma and allergies as well as creating a bond between mother and child.” Before you have trouble nursing your baby and throwing in the towel, talk to your doctor or lactation consultant about how you can find success for the health of both you and your bundle of joy.

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