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Is Your Breast Milk Making Your Baby Fat?

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Having gestational diabetes may affect babies after birth

A new study reveals that one subset of mothers could be making their babies fatter than normal with their breast milk.


According to a news release from scientists at the Imperial College London, babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes are significantly fatter two months after birth than those born from mothers without gestational diabetes. This news is in light of related studies that suggest how to predict if your baby will become obese and two ways a mother can protect her child from a life of obesity.

These results, recently published in the journal Diabetes Care, revealed a surprising finding that although babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes were not different in body fat content at time of birth; did however, gain 16 per cent more body fat compared to babies born to healthy mothers by the time they reached age two months. The release notes that most of the babies in the study were breast-fed.

This research is focused on if and how gestational diabetes—a medical condition trending among pregnant women—may be adversely affecting babies in some way. According to the news release Gestational diabetes affects around one in 20 pregnant women in the UK (and nearly one in ten in the US) and results in a woman's blood sugar levels becoming too high.

"Gestational diabetes is becoming more and more common, and babies born to these mothers are at increased risk of developing diabetes when they grow up. Therefore we need to understand what effects maternal diabetes has on the baby,” states Dr. Karen Logan, the first author of the published study. "This new study suggests diabetes in the mother can trigger changes in the baby at a very early stage."

The study involved researchers using MRI technology to scan 42 babies whose mothers were diagnosed with gestational diabetes, and an additional 44 babies as a control group who were born to mothers without gestational diabetes. The scans are an accurate and non-invasive way to accurately determine body fat development in newborns.

Currently, the researchers are at a loss of identifying exactly the cause of this phenomenon, but speculate that it could be due to:

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• Changes in the baby's metabolism while in the womb
• Changes in the baby that trigger increased fat storage once born
• Differences in the control of appetite in the baby

However, an additional interesting possibility is an alteration in the breast milk of mothers who have or had gestational diabetes.

According to the paper’s senior author, Professor Neena Modi, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial, "The majority of babies in our study were breast fed, and previous studies have suggested that diabetes may cause changes in breast milk―so that it contains more sugar, fat or different levels of compounds that control appetite, called hunger hormones."

The researchers plan to begin a new study analyzing the composition of breast milk from mothers with gestational diabetes to determine whether this could explain why babies born from mothers with gestational diabetes gained 16% more body fat within two months following birth.


"Development of Early Adiposity in Infants of Mothers With Gestational Diabetes Mellitus" Diabetes Care, May 2016; Karen M. Logan et al.

Imperial College London news release “Scans reveal babies of mothers with gestational diabetes have more body fat.”

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