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NEW YORK- Babies who are fed milk from their mothers' breasts gain less weight over their first year compared to babies fed milk -- breast or formula -- from a bottle, suggests a new study.
"If the babies are fed by the breast, the baby plays a very active role, because they are the ones who decide when to suckle and when to stop," said Dr. Ruowei Li, of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Li told Reuters Health some researchers believe that "if the babies are fed with the bottle, they will gradually lose their self-regulation of their energy intake and the internal cues of satiety and hunger."
Through a series of surveys sent to their mothers, the researchers asked for -- among other things -- babies' weights at different ages and how often women breastfed, pumped their breast milk or used formula.
When moms did a combination of breastfeeding and bottle feeding with human milk only, babies didn't gain any extra weight -- but if they both breastfed and bottle-fed with formula, their babies gained an additional two ounces each month, on average.
It's not totally clear why babies fed a combination of bottled breast milk and formula may not have gained additional weight, the researchers wrote in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
"The key message out of this study is that breastfeeding really is the first feeding choice for the babies," said Li, who added that supplementing breastfeeding with breast milk from a bottle is a good second option.
In the same journal, Tessa Crume and her colleagues published findings suggesting breastfeeding for at least six months may not only protect kids against being overweight later in childhood, but also against being underweight.
Simply put, overweight kids might have been even more overweight if they weren't breastfed as babies, the researchers reported. At the opposite end of the weight spectrum, there was a suggestion that underweight kids might have weighed even less if their moms hadn't breastfed them.
"Pediatricians should deliver their expert advice with empathy, being mindful of the gap that always exists for parents between doing what is ideal for their children and doing what is possible," according to the editorial.
Co-author Dr. Jeffrey Wright, a pediatrician from the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, told Reuters Health there could be anatomical or economic reasons why mothers cannot breastfeed their children.
Some mothers have to return to work, fathers may want to help with feeding and the parents may want to know how much milk their baby is getting. Wright said all of these reasons may keep mothers from breastfeeding.
"There were millions of babies raised on formula well before the obesity epidemic started," said Wright. "Each family should weigh the benefits they see against the hassles they take to get there, and the father should be involved with that discussion."
If that's not possible, she said it's important to pay attention to the signals a baby sends out to prevent overfeeding with a bottle, such as keeping their mouth shut or not wanting to suckle.