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Breast-feeding May Protect Bone Density in Teens

Study says calcium replenished after weaning

TUESDAY, May 1 (HealthScout) -- Not only is it safe for young mothers to breast-feed, they may be protecting their bones by nursing, a new study says.

Because women who breast-feed lose bone density as they nurse, there's been concern that the bones of still-developing teen-age moms might be weakening if they breast-feed.

Not so, says Dr. Caroline Chantry, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, Davis, and lead author of the study, the first research to look at how bones replenish themselves after a teen-age mother stops nursing.

"Until now we haven't had much information at all about what happens to bones during lactation," Chantry says. Other studies have looked at bone depletion, not how bones were replenished.

Bone mineral density decreases in mothers during breast-feeding but replenishes itself once the child is weaned, at least in adults.

Chantry and her team analyzed data from the third National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES III) which followed more than 800 women who had breast-fed while still teens. They found no signs of bone loss even three years after childbirth.

In fact, Chantry says bone mineral density was 5 percent to 7 percent higher in teen-age moms who breast-fed, compared with those who did not. But, she says bone density in women who breast-fed as teens was not much higher than in women who had no children.

"We do know there are hormonal changes which take place after weaning that allow the body to replenish the density lost during lactation. My hypothesis is since [breast-feeding] is occurring when bones are actively accruing density during the teen-age years, they are able to replenish at a higher rate," Chantry says.

"This follows pretty closely what happens when women are older, as well," says Carol Huotari, a certified lactation consultant and manager of the Center for Breast-feeding Information of La Leche League, International, a breast-feeding advocacy group.

"When a child is weaned, the body more actively than at other times metabolizes food and replenishes the calcium deposits," says Huotari. Some researchers believe it's connected to pregnancy, but "it's possible it has to do with the metabolic changes during lactation," she says.

Chantry say one weakness of the study is "the data base did not quantify how long, or how exclusively" the mothers breast-fed. The study was presented yesterday at the annual joint meeting of the 2001 Pediatric Academic Societies and American Academy of Pediatrics in Baltimore.

Although she says she's not advocating that teens have babies, "If there are teen mothers, we can absolutely reassure them that breast-feeding is not harmful to the bones and may actually be protective."

Huotari says, "Teenage mothers need to be able to say, 'even though I still have growing to do, breast-feeding will benefit me as well as my baby.'"

What To Do

Chantry says any woman, especially nursing moms, should keep in mind that a good diet, with lots of calcium and exercise, builds strong bones.

Get your common breast-feeding questions answered at

Learn more about bone density and how to prevent bone loss from this site.

For more HealthScout stories on breast-feeding, click here.

SOURCES: Interviews with Caroline Chantry, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics, University of California, Davis; Carol Huotari, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, manager, Center for Breastfeeding Information, La Leche League, International
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