Nearly 20 percent of children and adolescents as well as 14 percent of toddlers in the U.S. are obese and researchers are trying to figure why. One major influence, among many possibilities, may be what a baby eats during their first six months of life and how it sets the stage for their growth. Ideally, breast milk is their only food during this critical stage. Given the importance of breast milk, University of Minnesota School of Public Health professor, Dr. Ellen Demerath has been conducting a long-term study to analyze its complex composition and track the ways it relates to growth and weight gain.
As a part of that larger MILk study, Dr. Demerath recently published a paper in the journal Obesity measuring the levels of appetite-regulating hormones in the milk of women who had varying weight status before, during, and after pregnancy.
For the study, the research team collected health record weight data and milk samples from 135 exclusively breastfeeding women. The researchers measured three particular hormones in breast milk: leptin, insulin, and adiponectin.
The analysis showed that obese mothers had elevated levels of leptin and insulin, and lower amounts of adiponectin in their breast milk. The investigation also found that leptin milk levels were higher for women with greater weight gain during pregnancy and decreased for mothers who lost weight postpartum.
According to Dr. Demerath, it’s much too early to speculate what the hormone levels mean for babies and their risk for becoming obese.
“It could be that the hormone levels we found in obese mothers are beneficial to the baby. Also, the main risk may have nothing to do with the mom’s weight status, and could be driven by other factors, such as the mother’s diet quality, ” said Dr. Demerath.