Last week the Fearless Formula Feeder wrote about a study that just came out, a study suggesting that children who are fed breast milk don’t actually outperform children who are fed formula on a series of metrics. In previous studies, breastfed babies out performed their formula fed peers, but in this study they did not. The difference? SIBLINGS!!!!
In a study based out of Ohio, 8,000 children were compared. 25% of them were siblings who were fed differently (one breastfed, one formula fed) during infancy. When comparing children from different households, the breastfed children measured better on 10 of 11 outcomes, but when comparing the “discordant sibling pairs” there was virtually no difference between the children.
Slate.com’s New Study Confirms it: Breast-Feeding Benefits Have Been Drastically Overstated states it like this:
When children from different families were compared, the kids who were breast-fed did better on those 11 measures than kids who were not breast-fed. But, as Colen points out, mothers who breast-feed their kids are disproportionately advantaged—they tend to be wealthier and better educated. When children fed differently within the same family were compared—those discordant sibling pairs—there was no statistically significant difference in any of the measures, except for asthma. Children who were breast-fed were at a higher risk for asthma than children who drank formula.
Wow. So the only significant difference between children who were breastfed and those who were not is that the children who were breastfed were at GREATER risk for asthma. Eye opening, isn’t it?
A review of the study on Babble.com, explains why this shows us what others studies could not:
Studying siblings is the key component here. Siblings raised in the same family — one who was breastfed and another who was bottle fed — were compared, as opposed to children from different families. This factor is hugely important because as the study’s lead author, Ohio State University assistant professor Cynthia Colen notes in a press release, “Many previous studies suffer from selection bias. They either do not or cannot statistically control for factors such as race, age, family income, mother’s employment — things we know that can affect both breast-feeding and health outcomes.” The study then measured those siblings for 11 outcomes, including BMI, obesity, asthma, different measures of intelligence, hyperactivity, and parental attachment. Guess what? There was no difference in the siblings who were breastfed over those who were bottle-fed.
I, for one, am immensely grateful for this study and its implications. I believe the “breast is best” campaign has gotten out of hand and studies like this go a long way in supporting women who are finding that breastfeeding is just not working for them (or simply didn’t want to breastfeed in the first place). I love the way Jessica Shortall describes it on Has “Breast is Best” Jumped The Shark: (spoiler: yes, it has):
The “breast is best” thing has totally jumped the shark. I understand, and applaud and am grateful for, the early crusading work of women who have fought the fight to make sure that breastfeeding is promoted, valued, and legally protected – because there was a time when it was none of these things. Every single time I nurse my child somewhere while I’m out and about (never a fun or comfortable experience, but one has to leave the house eventually, and it’s frowned upon to leave the baby alone at home), I think about these women with gratitude. I am grateful to them because I know that if someone approaches (and reproaches) me about it, I am protected by law – even here in the grand old State of Texas – to feed my child.
But here’s the thing – this “breast is best” thing has taken on a tinge of accusation and a tone of judgment. “Breast is best” no longer comes across only as “…so leave the poor woman alone who is trying to nurse her hungry baby on a park bench.” It no longer comes across as just “provide a lactation room for new mothers at your workplace – one that does not require her to sit on a germy toilet while she produces food for a baby.”
Lately, it’s starting to sound a bit like “…so if you don’t do it, you obviously don’t love your baby or want what’s best for he/she.”
That is exactly what it’s starting to sound like. And when studies like this come out, I don’t see how any woman can be made to feel guilty for making the best choice for her, even if that means not breast feeding.
I think breastfeeding is great. I WISH I could have a positive breastfeeding experience. Unfortunately, that has not been the case for me. At all. In fact, breastfeeding has been the opposite of positive, and I know I’m not the only one. Yes, I think breastfeeding is great, but I don’t think it’s great that women feel pressured to breastfeed, despite low milk supply, treatment resistant thrush, recurrent mastitis, unsupportive pumping situations at work, prescribed medications that are not safe while breastfeeding. Many women choose not to breastfeed, and many don’t even have a choice. These women shouldn’t be made to feel inferior, and the “breast is best” campaign has become a force that can do just that. I’m so glad this study helps clarify that while breast milk is great, it’s not the end all, be all of infant feeding, that babies who are formula fed do just as well as their breast fed cohorts. In fact, they have exactly the same chances of being happy, healthy babies who grow up into happy, healthy kids as breastfed babies have. And I, for one, think that is truly awesome news.
Are you surprised by these findings? How do you think they will shape the “breast is best” rhetoric? Do you feel differently about your infant feeding choices/circumstances knowing these results?