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Protein: too much of a good thing?

Too little or too much protein during the first 1000 days of your child’s life can have a negative impact on their health. They need to have just the right amount of protein.

4 mins
to read
By Danial Ahmad ,
Jan 28, 2021

The best thing you can do to ensure your child gets the right amount of protein is to breastfeed. It’s the ideal source of protein, and overall nutrition, for little children because it adapts to meet their changing needs. This means you need not worry that your breast milk will have too much (or too little) protein. 

It’s true that your child needs protein for healthy growth. In fact, they need more protein per kilogram of his body weight than you do. However, too much protein can have a negative effect on his health. Studies have shown that children consuming too much protein gain weight too quickly and this extra fat may stay with them as they get older. Contrary to some beliefs, a chubby child is not healthier than a child who has a normal and healthy weight. 

Preventing health problems now and in the future

“Breastfed children are less likely to develop common childhood infections such as diarrhoea, serious colds, or ear and throat infections. And there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that breastfeeding is linked to a child’s healthy growth, including his brain development, and later speech, intelligence, and academic performance,” explains Dr. Evelyn Spivey-Krobath, PhD, Nutrition Scientist at Nestlé Nutrition. Breast milk protein plays an important role in your child’s health by providing immune factors, as well as amino acids for brain development. 

Perfect portions

“Breastfeeding is associated with a healthy, desirable rate of weight gain during early childhood and can help your child stay on an appropriate growth curve. This is partly because of the tailored level of protein breast milk contains. Breastfeeding also provides a moderate but consistent protective effect against later obesity,” explains Dr. Spivey-Krobath. “A combination of studies revealed that children who were breastfed had a 20% lower risk of being overweight (and a 25% lower risk of being obese) at school enrolment compared with those who were never breastfed.”

The length of time you breastfeed for also has an effect. “The longer a child was breastfed, the lower his risk of being overweight or obese at the age of five to six,” adds Dr. Spivey-Krobath. Public health experts have identified tackling childhood obesity and weight issues as a crucial way to reduce health problems in later childhood and adulthood. “Breastfeeding your child is the best way of ensuring your child grows up healthily.”

Your action plan

Do… breastfeed your child exclusively in the first six months. Breast milk contains the right amount and quality of protein to meet your child’s changing needs as he grows.


Don’t… give your little one cow’s milk in the first year. It contains more protein than your breast milk and isn’t suitable for his immature digestive system.
 

Sources

Agostoni C, Braegger C, Decsi T et al. Breast-feeding: A commentary by the ESPGHAN Committee on Nutrition. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 2009; 49(1):112–25.

Arenz S, Ruckerl R, Koletzko B et al. Breast-feeding and childhood obesity—a systematic review. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2004; 28(10):1247-56.

Belfort MB, Rifas-Shiman SL, Kleinman KP et al. Infant feeding and childhood cognition at ages 3 and 7 years: effects of breastfeeding duration and exclusivity. JAMA Pediatr 2013; 167(9):836-44.

Cai S, Pang WW, Low YL et al. Infant feeding effects on early neurocognitive development in Asian children. Am J Clin Nutr 2015; 101(2):326–36.

Dewey KG. Growth characteristics of breast-fed compared to formula-fed infants. Biol Neonate 1998; 74(2):94-105.

Fonseca AL, Albernaz EP, Kaufman CC et al. Impact of breastfeeding on the intelligence quotient of eight-year-old children. J Pediatr (Rio J) 2013; 89(4):346-53.

Harder T, Bergmann R, Kallischnigg G et al. Duration of breastfeeding and risk of overweight: a meta-analysis. Am J Epidemiol. 2005; 162(5):397-403.

Koletzko B, von Kries R, Closa R et al. Lower protein in infant formula is associated with lower weight up to age 2 y: a randomized clinical trial. Am J Clin Nutr 2009; 89(6):1836–45.

Leventakou V, Roumeliotaki T, Koutra K et al. Breastfeeding duration and cognitive, language and motor development at 18 months of age: Rhea mother-child cohort in Crete, Greece. J Epidemiol Community Health 2015; 69(3):232–9.

Victora CG, Barros FC, Horta BL et al. Breastfeeding and school achievement in Brazilian adolescents. Acta Paediatr 2005; 94(11):1656-60.

Victora CG, Bahl R, Barrios AJ et al. Lancet Breastfeeding Series Group. Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect. Lancet 2016; 387(10017):475-90.

Last revised: May, 2017

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