Every time a new study is published the arguing online starts. The defending, the judging, the plain old mean and hurtful comments about infant feeding. Breastfeeding vs. formula. A new study has just been published, “Is Breast Truly Best? Estimating the Effects of Breastfeeding on Long-term Child Health and Wellbeing in the United States Using Sibling Comparisons” from The Social Science and Medicine Journal. Here is some of what the research paper concluded:
“Results from between-family comparisons suggest that both breastfeeding status and duration are associated with beneficial long-term child outcomes. This trend was evident for 10 out of the 11 outcomes examined here. When we more fully account for unobserved heterogeneity between children who are breastfed and those who are not, we are forced to reconsider the notion that breastfeeding unequivocally results in improved childhood health and wellbeing. In fact, our findings provide preliminary evidence to the contrary. When comparing results from between- to within-family estimates, coefficients for 10 of the 11 outcomes are substantially attenuated toward zero and none reach statistical significance (p < 0.05). Moreover, the signs of some of the regression coefficients actually change direction suggesting that, for some outcomes, breastfed children may actually be worse off than children who were not breastfed.”
Pretty much the article comes to the conclusion that breastmilk is over-rated and not as awesome as people have been going on about…
I will not pick apart this article. Anyone can pick apart any research article and create what they want out of it to support their own argument. Also, this article is over fifty pages long. So instead of picking through this with a fine toothed comb and boring you to death or bring up the old and annoying, “well I think this author has ties to the formula company” argument, I will just bring up a few points and thoughts that have come up for me.
1. The definition of “exclusive” breastfeeding varies. This means that even women who supplemented here or there or introduced solids before six months might still be considered to be “exclusively” breastfeeding. You cannot compare research studies which do not have the same definition and you cannot lump them into the same category because they all had different definitions of exclusive. To date, there is still no clear definition of “exclusively breastfed” within breastfeeding research. This is a huge issue which is relevant to every article, whether it is in support of breastfeeding or formula feeding.
2. You cannot define a group as “breastfeeding” and look at their over all, long term health unless every person breastfed to natural term. Natural term breastfeeding is beyond babyhood, so until at least two years old. If children are allowed to wean on their own terms, it is rare for this to happen before the age of two. Katherine Dettwyler has a chapter on this topic in her book, Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives published in 1995. The biological norm is for children to breastfeed beyond babyhood. You cannot lump breastfed babies into the same category to compare long term overall health to formula fed children unless all breastfed children are fed exclusively for the same amount of time and breastfed to natural term (beyond babyhood) which is the biological norm.
What are things we know for sure?
*We know for sure that gut health is extremely important to our overall physical and mental health. More and more research is coming out about this. Formula completely changes the gut health of a baby. Please head HERE to read my article on gut health.
*We know that breastfeeding saves lives, especially for sick, premature babies and babies in developing countries. Please head to the World Health Organization’s WEBSITE for more info on this.
*Research shows that breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS. Head HERE for more info. on Dr. Sears’ website.
*Research shows that breastfeeding reduces the risk of many different health problems for women.
I could go on! But I will not. Because really, it is about so much more than just “THE MILK” and the research. Mothering through breastfeeding and the many benefits that come from this are unquantifiable.
We know that formula is the best option if a mother’s breastmilk or donor milk is unavailable. Before formula was created, babies often did not survive unless there was a wet-nurse around to take over the feeding if the mum was unable to breastfeed. We do not need a research article such as this to know that. We have seen millions of babies happily grow into adults and die an old age after being fed formula. We know that bonding happens no matter how you feed your baby. Yet we do know that for many babies, formula can be extremely difficult on their digestive systems and create issues such as dermatitis and allergies. I have seen babies have horrible reactions when switched to formula. It can be challenging to study this as we will never know what illnesses or health issues any particular person would have had if they were fed differently as an infant and toddler. It is not only what family you come from but a variety of other factors which play a part in our short term, and long term health.
Breastfeeding is the biological norm. We have survived as a species because of breastmilk. Breastmilk is a living, changing tissue just like the blood that flows through our veins. It will never be able to be replicated because it is always changing depending on what you and/or your baby has been exposed to, the food you eat, your genetics, the age of your baby and the different needs of your baby at any given time. It changes hour to hour day to day based on a variety of factors. Breastfeeding is normal. It is not “best”, it is normal. And we do not need research to prove this. We have over 200,000 years of human survival to show us that breastmilk is just simply normal…and perfectly suited for our species.
Most importantly remember that breastfeeding is not just about “the milk”. It is about mothering our children through breastfeeding. When our children are hurt, sad, scared, confused, bored, hungry, thirsty…we can breastfeed them. It meets most every one of their needs. We are not better than formula feeding mums, we are not at war with formula feeding mums. We know that formula is next best after human milk. Let’s stop these mummy wars in their tracks. Support each other no matter how we are feeding our babies.