Scientists are finally investigating how breastfeeding alters women’s interest in foods

Scientists are beginning to examine the impact of breastfeeding on food interests — and now a new study offers some initial evidence that interest in eating specific foods is not driven solely by hunger in women who are breastfeeding.

The study was published in the journal Physiology & Behavior.

“I’m interested in sex differences in ingestive behaviors (like eating), and it always is a surprise to me how little we know about how sex hormones act in the brain to affect behaviors and related physiological systems,” said study author Kathleen S. Curtis, a professor of physiology and interim chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology at Oklahoma State University.

“This is compounded by the lack of research focused on women’s health during ‘altered’ hormonal conditions like pregnancy, lactation, or menopause. In short, even though women make up more than 50% of the U.S. population, they remain under-studied, and the implications of this lack of research-based understanding for women’s health are enormous.”

During their 6-week postpartum checkup, 64 mothers completed a survey about their interest in eating various foods and their interest in specific tastes.

Both breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding mothers were most interested in eating sweet foods and least interested in sour foods. However, breastfeeding women tended to have a greater interest in eating foods of all taste qualities.

Curtis and her colleagues also found that the relationship between hunger ratings and interest in eating foods differed between breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding mothers. Interest in eating foods was associated with ratings of hunger in women who were not breastfeeding, but not in women who were breastfeeding.

“The foods that breastfeeding women are interested in eating depend on taste, but are less obviously related to how hungry they are,” Curtis told PsyPost.

The new research provides a jumping off point for future studies.

“Surveys are important first steps, but additional studies are needed to determine if interest in specific foods mean those foods actually would be eaten, given the chance. Other questions have to do with whether women’s perception of specific tastes are altered by breastfeeding, and how that may influence their food choices,” Curtis said.

“Why women choose to eat specific foods is critical for understanding body weight regulation. Moreover, women still are the primary shoppers and preparers of meals; thus, for good or for bad, her interests in specific foods also may affect the foods she chooses to prepare for her family’s meals.”

The study, “Breastfeeding and women’s interest in specific food tastes“, Luanne V. Solis, Anne L. Bowes, Dolores Vazquez-Sanroman, and Kathleen S. Curtis.