Breastfeeding No Better Than The Bottle, Shows Study

    February 26, 2014
    Sean Patterson
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New mothers are often under quite a bit of pressure to breastfeed. This isn’t possible for everyone, though, and so many women end up feeling like failures due to these social pressures. Good news, then, that a new study could help to begin erasing the stigma of the bottle.

The new study, published in the Social Science & Medicine, casts doubt on previous studies that have touted the benefits of breastfeeding. Researchers looked at 665 families in which sibling children from the same family were fed differently in childhood. They found no difference among several metrics that include future obesity, hyperactivity, and academic performance.

The only category that held a significant difference between breast-fed and bottle-fed siblings was asthma. Children who were breast-fed were found to be at a higher risk for asthma later in life.

This, of course, raises the question of why previous studies have found major benefits to breastfeeding. According to the new study’s authors, these previous studies may have been pinpointing racial and socioeconomic differences among children and parents rather than any actual health benefit.

“Many previous studies suffer from selection bias,” said Cynthia Colen, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University. “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. Moms with more resources, with higher levels of education and higher levels of income, and more flexibility in their daily schedules are more likely to breast-feed their children and do so for longer periods of time.”

Colen and her colleagues have concluded that breastfeeding may not offer the long-term benefits that are generally associated with the practice. Instead, suggest researchers, income inequality, school quality, and other factors should be more of a focus that breastfeeding.

“We need to take a much more careful look at what happens past that first year of life and understand that breast-feeding might be very difficult, even untenable, for certain groups of women,” said Colen. “Rather than placing the blame at their feet, let’s be more realistic about what breast-feeding does and doesn’t do.”

  • Rebekah

    I’m not breastfeeding for the long term benefits, I’m breastfeeding for the CURRENT benefits. My baby is protected by all of my natural immunities while breastfeeding, and is VERY unlikely to get sick because of it. Breast milk can cure ear infections, among other things. Can formula? Nope. Breastmilk is specifically MADE for your exact baby. Not to mention the benefits for mom… you are much less likely to get breast cancer! I’m not saying that mom’s who CAN’T breastfeed are BAD, I’m just saying if you CAN, it’s much much better for your baby.

  • Deena Nilston

    Actually, there is no reason to believe that breastfeeding confers as many of the benefits as are claimed. For instance, breast milk absolutely cannot “cure” ear infections. It may be that there are some immunities transferred from mother to baby through breast milk and perhaps those immunities lower the risk of baby ear infections taking hold but even so there appear to be some misconceptions. Breast milk doesn’t confer glowing health and resistance to illness automatically.

    My complaint with the “breast is best” crowd is the amount of hyperbole and lying in which they regularly indulge. They paint a glowing and unrealistic picture extolling the superiority of both breast feeding mother and breast fed baby. They grossly understate the toll in time and physical discomfort for the mother. They don’t acknowledge that women have tremendous variation in circumstance and an alternative to exclusive breast feeding may in fact be “best”.

    The sad part is this–when activist lactators promulgate false claims and fail to mention costs, they are doomed to be disproved eventually. There will probably still be some women happy to be crucified on Mt. Mammary but am guessing that most moms don’t want to be martyrs for nonexistent benefits. Then the pendulum will swing again back to the formula manufacturers who went through their own period of arrogance when they managed to convince vulnerable new mothers how superior THEIR product was.

    The facts are these–for both breast and bottle feeding there are major pluses AND minuses. A new mother has the right to decide which one best fits her and her baby–PERIOD. Yes, she needs to be aware that if she chooses not to breastfeed and her milk dries up, there’s no going back. But that factor alone is not reason to insist that “breast is best”.