Breastfeeding and Early Nutrition

Development does not end at birth, and infants remain dependent upon their mother or caregiver for nutrition. A mother's diet while breastfeeding can affect the infant in ways that are similar to those observed in the womb. Maternal diets high in fat and cholesterol while breastfeeding can contribute to a higher risk for childhood and/or adult metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, increased blood pressure and obesity. A balanced diet of healthy proteins, fruits and vegetables provide the best basis for breastfeeding. Once solid foods are introduced, the child depends on having food that is both of adequate amount and of good nutritional quality. It's equally as important during this stage of development that children continue having adequate, nutrient rich foods to help them grow and develop.

If a child experienced "trade-offs" when developing in the womb, they may not be adequately prepared for the new and different food environment they're born into. These trade-offs were essential to survive birth and prepare for life in an environment with diminished access to food. Unfortunately, this survival tactic can then backfire when an infant is born into an environment where food is plentiful.

For example, if a fetus traded brain or heart development over the pancreas or kidneys, the pancreas and kidneys would be somewhat compromised and not developed to their full potential. Then, if that infant is born into an environment where they are fed an overabundance of certain types of food, they can become more at risk for developing obesity, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. This is because they were "programmed" to survive in an environment with fewer calories. If nutritional imbalances continue throughout infancy and childhood then this increases a child’s risk of obesity and future chronic disease even more.

In spite of all of this, there are always opportunities to improve a child's outcomes through balanced nutrition and a healthy environment that is full of love and bonding with his or her parents and caregivers.

Armitage, J. A., Taylor, P. D., & Poston, L. (2005). Experimental models of developmental programming: Consequences of exposure to an energy rich diet during development. The Journal of Physiology,565(1), 3-8.

Gluckman, P., Hanson, M., & Buklijas, T. (2010). A conceptual framework for the developmental origins of health and disease. Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, 1(1), 6-18.

McDade, T. W., Metzger, M. W., Chyu, L., Duncan, G. J., Garfield, C., & Adam, E. K. (2014). Long-term effects of birth weight and breastfeeding duration on inflammation in early adulthood. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences,281(1784), 20133116-20133116.