Maternal obesity during lactation may protect offspring from high fat diet-induced metabolic dysfunction

Nutr Diabetes. 2018 Apr 25;8(1):18. doi: 10.1038/s41387-018-0027-z.


Background/objectives: The current obesity epidemic has spurred exploration of the developmental origin of adult heath and disease. A mother's dietary choices and health can affect both the early wellbeing and lifelong disease-risk of the offspring.

Subjects/methods: To determine if changes in the mother's diet and adiposity have long-term effects on the baby's metabolism, independently from a prenatal insult, we utilized a mouse model of diet-induced-obesity and cross-fostering. All pups were born to lean dams fed a low fat diet but were fostered onto lean or obese dams fed a high fat diet. This study design allowed us to discern the effects of a poor diet from those of mother's adiposity and metabolism. The weaned offspring were placed on a high fat diet to test their metabolic function.

Results: In this feeding challenge, all male (but not female) offspring developed metabolic dysfunction. We saw increased weight gain in the pups nursed on an obesity-resistant dam fed a high fat diet, and increased pathogenesis including liver steatosis and adipose tissue inflammation, when compared to pups nursed on either obesity-prone dams on a high fat diet or lean dams on a low fat diet.

Conclusion: Exposure to maternal over-nutrition, through the milk, is sufficient to shape offspring health outcomes in a sex- and organ-specific manner, and milk from a mother who is obesity-prone may partially protect the offspring from the insult of a poor diet.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / pathology
  • Animals
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Diet*
  • Diet, High-Fat / adverse effects
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Fatty Liver / etiology
  • Fatty Liver / prevention & control
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Lactation*
  • Male
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Metabolic Diseases / etiology
  • Metabolic Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Milk
  • Mothers
  • Obesity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects
  • Sex Factors
  • Weight Gain


  • Dietary Fats