Previous studies have found that breastfeeding may protect infants against future overweight. One proposed mechanism is that breastfeeding, compared with bottle-feeding, may promote maternal feeding styles that are less controlling and more responsive to infant cues of hunger and satiety, thereby allowing infants greater self-regulation of energy intake. The objective of this study was to examine whether preponderance of breastfeeding in the first 6 months of life and breastfeeding duration are associated with less maternal restrictive behavior and less pressure to eat.
We studied 1160 mother–infant pairs in Project Viva, an ongoing prospective cohort study of pregnant mothers and their children. The main outcome measures were mothers’ reports of restricting their children’s food intake and of pressuring their children to eat more food, as measured by a modified Child Feeding Questionnaire (CFQ) at 1 year postpartum. Restriction was defined by strongly agreeing or agreeing with the following question from the modified CFQ: “I have to be careful not to feed my child too much.” We derived a continuous pressure to eat score from 5 questions of the modified CFQ. We used multiple logistic regression to examine the association between preponderance of breastfeeding in the first 6 months of life, breastfeeding duration, and mothers’ restriction of children’s access to food. We used multiple linear regression, both before and after adjusting for several groups of confounders, to predict the effects of breastfeeding on the mothers’ scores for pressuring their children to eat.
The mean (SD) age of the women was 32.4 (4.8) years; 24% of the women were nonwhite, and 32% were primigravidas. At 6 months postpartum, 24% of the mothers were exclusively breastfeeding, 25% were mixed feeding, 41% had weaned, and 10% had fed their infants formula only. The mean (SD) duration of breastfeeding was 6.3 (4.5) months. Thirteen percent of the mothers strongly agreed or agreed with the restriction question. The mean (SD) score on the pressure to eat scale was 5.3 (3.7), and the range was 0 to 20. After adjusting for mothers’ preexisting concerns about their children’s future eating and weight status, as well as sociodemographic, economic, and anthropometric predictors of breastfeeding duration, we found that the longer the mothers breastfed, the less likely they were to restrict their children’s food intake at age 1 year. The adjusted odds ratio was 0.89 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.84–0.95) for each 1-month increment in breastfeeding duration. In addition, we found that compared with mothers who were exclusively formula feeding, mothers who were exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months of age had much lower odds of restricting their children’s food intake at 1 year (odds ratio: 0.27; 95% CI: 0.10–0.72). Preponderance of breastfeeding in the first 6 months of life and breastfeeding duration (β = −0.01 points on the 0–20 scale for each additional 1 month of breastfeeding [95% CI: −0.07 to 0.05]) were not related to mothers’ pressuring their children to eat more.
Mothers who fed their infants breast milk in early infancy and who breastfed for longer periods reported less restrictive behavior regarding child feeding at 1 year. Additional longitudinal studies should examine the extent to which any protective effect of breastfeeding on overweight is explained by decreased maternal feeding restriction.