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Study suggests babies only breast-fed may gain less weight during first year

Babies who are breast-fed gain less weight over their first year of life compared to babies fed either breast milk or formula from a bottle, according to a U.S. study.

The report, in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, is one piece of a growing body of evidence that breast-feeding appears to be the best choice for a newborn and protect against obesity later in life.

Lead author Ruowei Li of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the difference may come down to how much a role babies play in deciding when to stop feeding instead of mothers or fathers forcing them to finish a bottle.

“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,” she said.

Li and her fellow researchers followed about 1,900 babies from across the United States who were born in the mid-2000s.

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 breast-fed, pumped their breast milk or used formula.

Babies who were fed from a bottle, either with only breast milk or only formula, gained about 85 grams (3 ounces) more per month compared to those who were solely breast-fed.

After that, the findings became a bit more complicated.

When mothers combined breast-feeding and bottle feeding with human milk only, babies didn't gain any extra weight. But if the babies were fed both breast milk and formula, they grew similarly to babies who were solely breast-fed.

It's not clear why those babies fed a combination of breast milk by bottle as well as formula may not have gained additional weight, the researchers said.

But “the key message out of this study is that breast-feeding really is the first feeding choice for the babies,” said Li, adding that supplementing breast-feeding with breast milk from a bottle is a good second option.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers exclusively breast-feed for six months and continue breast-feeding as foods are introduced until at least 12 months.

But experts acknowledged that care needs to be taken not to put mothers under pressure about breast-feeding, acknowledging that it just may not be possible for a number of reasons.

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This Dec. 9, 2008 file photo shows a child drinking milk in Chengdu, in China's southwestern province of Sichuan. Babies who are breast-fed gain less weight over their first year ...

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