Breast-feeding has been suggested to be associated with lower risks of obesity in older children and adults. We assessed whether the duration and exclusiveness of breast-feeding are associated with early postnatal growth rates and the risks of overweight and obesity in preschool children. The present study was embedded in a population-based prospective cohort study from early fetal life onwards, among 5047 children and their mothers in The Netherlands. Compared with children who were breast-fed, those who were never breast-fed had a lower weight at birth (difference 134 (95 % CI − 190, − 77) g). No associations between breast-feeding duration and exclusivity with growth rates before the age of 3 months were observed. Shorter breast-feeding duration was associated with an increased gain in age- and sex-adjusted standard deviation scores for length, weight and BMI (P for trend < 0·05) between 3 and 6 months of age. Similar tendencies were observed for the associations of breast-feeding exclusivity with change in length, weight and BMI. Breast-feeding duration and exclusivity were not consistently associated with the risks of overweight and obesity at the ages of 1, 2 and 3 years. In conclusion, shorter breast-feeding duration and exclusivity during the first 6 months tended to be associated with increased growth rates for length, weight and BMI between the age of 3 and 6 months but not with the risks of overweight and obesity until the age of 3 years.