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Oklahoma State University

OSU research offers insights on women and breastfeeding

Wed, June 14, 2017
OSU

Women with a history of chronic extra weight are more likely to stop breastfeeding their babies earlier than other mothers, according to a new study from Oklahoma State University. 

Researchers surveyed 1,901 mothers about breastfeeding their first biological child and found that those who reported a longer history of being overweight or obese, breastfed their children about four months, compared to an average of six months of breastfeeding from mothers who had never been overweight.  

Pediatricians recommend that mothers exclusively breastfeed their infant for the first six months of life with continued breastfeeding for 12 months. The recommendations are based on benefits for both mothers and infants. Breastfeeding mothers experience reduced risk of breast cancer, heart attacks, and diabetes, while breastfed infants have lower risk of infections, diabetes, and sudden infant death syndrome.

“Breastfeeding can be stressful enough on new mothers,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Misty Hawkins, assistant professor of clinical psychology at OSU. “If we know that women who want to breastfeed but have a history of extra weight are at higher risk for breastfeeding difficulties, then we can develop tailored interventions to help these moms succeed.”

Nearly 60 percent of women, those who had no history of extra weight or whose weight cycled up and down, met the minimum requirement of 12 months total breastfeeding. However, less than half of the mothers who reported chronic overweight met the minimum. The survey also found that – regardless of weight – 48 percent of mothers in the survey did not meet the exclusive breastfeeding recommendation of six months.

Previous research has linked obesity to shorter breastfeeding duration. This study is the first to suggest that the length of time a mother has been in an obese or overweight condition may be an important consideration. However, it does not suggest that becoming overweight or obese before or after puberty makes a difference, though the self-report nature of the study limits firm conclusions.

Hawkins heads the Research on Emotions and Cognition in Health (REACH) Lab at OSU.  The lab studies how emotions and cognitive function contribute to the development of poor health and chronic diseases as well as how these diseases and poor health impact people’s emotions, cognition, and behaviors.  Hawkins is currently the principal investigator for two federally-funded research awards examining weight loss treatments.