Breastfeeding May Help Make Your Child a Healthier Eater But That’s Not the Only Way

A new study reveals that breastfeeding has yet another benefit: it increases the likelihood that children will eat a more healthful diet filled with fruits and vegetables when they are in preschool. The study followed about 10,000 children in Britain, France, Portugal, and Greece over the course of four to five years and found that the longer moms breastfed their babies, the more good foods they consumed when they reached school-age. Comparing formula-fed babies to those who were breastfed at least three to six months, researchers found that those who were never nursed were 20 percent less likely to eat at least one veggie a day and 20 to 30 percent less likely to eat one fruit per day. 

Unless you think a mom is nothing more than a set of breasts, I sense something very important is missing from this report -- mom herself. 


I'm not dismissing the heavy research that went into this study. I find the results fascinating -- and definitely worth thinking about as I decide whether to breastfeed or formula feed my next baby. But I can't help being annoyed by this study. Breastfeeding is great. But so is a mom's ability to make her children eat healthfully -- regardless of how she chose (or was physically able) to provide nutrition for her child when he or she was an infant. 

The report suggests that babies exposed to breast milk get used to all of the many diverse flavors present in a mom's diet. It really, truly makes sense. I get it. 

But here's how my mom, who raised my brother and me in the late '70s and didn't even consider breastfeeding, got us to eat vegetables and fruits when we were kids: she made meals that contained vegetables and fruits and served them to us as our only option. Voila -- it worked! She valued healthy eating and was actually kind of nuts about providing meals that boasted foods from "every color of the rainbow." When we went to the zoo with friends, she didn't buy us hot dogs -- she packed cottage cheese and fruit with turkey slices for lunch. At mealtime, we were not allowed to leave the table until we finished our vegetables. 

Did we love eggplant? No. But we ate it. And because it became a normal thing for us to eat, we now make the same veggie- and fruit-laden meals for our kids. By the way, my daughter only breastfed for two months and she happily eats broccoli rabe. Again, because we introduced it and put forth the message that this is her dinner and this is what she's expected to eat. 

I know breastfeeding has benefits that far outweigh those present in formula. But a mom who isn't or can't breastfeed shouldn't be discouraged by this report. You are still the most important influence in your child's life and in his or her early dietary habits.

What do you think about the results of this study?


Image via Stan dalone/Flickr

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