Win-win or lose-lose: Study suggests breast may not “beat” bottle in multiple long-term outcomes

Every morning, I receive Google alerts for several terms: breastfeeding, formula feeding, infant formula, breastmilk, etc. And every morning, I brace myself, waiting for the inevitable headline that will cause panic among bottle feeding moms, or re-ignite the incessant argument between breastfeeding advocates and formula feeding parents (as if it ever needs reigniting – it’s like one of those trick birthday candles, always sparking back to life even after you’ve wasted all your breath), or force me to take some semblance of a “position” on an issue that is hardly ever black and white.

One might expect that this morning, I would’ve broken out in that annoying Lego Movie song. You know, ’cause everything is awesome!!!!!

Source: connectedprincipals.com

Source: connectedprincipals.com

News broke that a study out of Ohio State, which examined sibling pairs where one child was breastfed and the other formula fed, had found that there was no statistically significant advantage to breastfeeding for 11 outcomes. These outcomes included things like obesity, asthma, and various measures of childhood intelligence and behavior. As the study explains:

“Breastfeeding rates in the U.S. are socially patterned. Previous research has documented startling racial and socioeconomic disparities in infant feeding practices. However, much of the empirical evidence regarding the effects of breastfeeding on long-term child health and wellbeing does not adequately address the high degree of selection into breastfeeding. To address this important shortcoming, we employ sibling comparisons in conjunction with 25 years of panel data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) to approximate a natural experiment and more accurately estimate what a particular child’s outcome would be if he/she had been differently fed during infancy…

 

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.”

 

Source: Colen and Ramey, Is Breast Truly Best? Estimating the Effects of Breastfeeding on Long-term Child Health and Wellbeing in the United States Using Sibling ComparisonsSocial Science & Medicine, Available online 29 January 2014

I will admit that the comments made in several news outlets by the lead author of this study, Cynthia G. Colen, have made me want to run through the streets, acting as a one-woman ticker-tape parade in her honor. (Case in point: “I’m not saying breast-feeding is not beneficial, especially for boosting nutrition and immunity in newborns. But if we really want to improve maternal and child health in this country, let’s also focus on things that can really do that in the long term – like subsidized day care, better maternity leave policies and more employment opportunities for low-income mothers that pay a living wage, for example.”) But I’m not celebrating the results of this study, any more than I’d celebrate one that said formula feeding caused children to sprout green hair from their chiny-chin-chins and opt to live under bridges.

Why? Because this shouldn’t be a freaking contest.

The backlash that comes out of studies like these feels more like if someone came out with research that claimed fried Oreos were just as healthy as raw kale. Instead, we should be approaching it as if someone came up with a way to make a vitamin supplement that would offer similar benefits to kale, for those who hated the taste. One is natural, one is synthetic; one is manufactured, one exists organically. But for those of us who don’t or can’t eat raw kale on a daily basis, a good substitute is a godsend. (And maybe helps us justify those fried Oreos. A girl can dream.) Now, a study showing comparable effects of the supplement to the organic kale would not negate the fact that kale, grown in your own garden, is a nutritious, amazing thing – and tastes quite delicious to those of us who have a palate for it. If we started telling the kale aficionados that the supplement was better in some way, that would be a problem. But if the people who loved kale insisted that the supplement wasn’t a valid option and was somehow morally wrong, that would be a problem, too. Chances are, if we were really talking about kale, nobody would care all that much. The people who liked kale would eat it, and those who didn’t, might opt for the supplement – feeling confident due to the research that suggested the supplement was a viable option.

But we’re not talking about kale. We’re talking about breastmilk. And that, apparently, is where we all fall apart, and are rendered completely incapable of rational, measured discussion.

What the Golen/Ramsey study shows should not be controversial. The results should be reassuring- evidence that formula feeding does not condemn a child to a life of obesity, poor health, and lackluster intelligence; proof that whether a woman chooses, or is capable of, feeding a baby from her breast is not what defines her as a mother.

Imagine, for a minute, if we didn’t compare breast and bottle, but rather celebrated BOTH as valid, safe, healthy options for mothers and babies. Accepting that formula has legitimacy – that there is a reason it was invented (out of a need and a desire for a safe breastmilk substitute), and a reason why a woman may decide that a substitute is preferable – should not threaten those of us who celebrate breastfeeding. Yes, we should continue to rage against predatory formula marketing, especially in the developing world. Yes, we should speak up and speak out when companies (hello, Delta) retreat to 1953 when they express their breastfeeding policies. (For that matter, we shouldn’t need breastfeeding policies – if children are allowed, breastfeeding should be allowed. End of story.) Yes, we should ensure that women are entitled to adequate pumping breaks, and given solid breastfeeding assistance, and are supported by solid research regarding medications and breastmilk and best practices from pediatric professionals. But none of that means formula has to be Public Enemy No. 1. None of that means parents who formula feed should be left floundering due to an embarrassing lack of support and education. And for the love of god, none of that means we should be smugly celebrating when formula fed babies are shown to fare poorly, or gleefully rejoicing when and if the opposite occurs.

This is one study, with its own set of limitations and biases, like any other study in the modern canon of infant feeding research. But it’s a good study, artfully designed, and one that raises some extremely important questions about how the emphasis on feeding babies might be distracting us from the real work of supporting better maternal and childhood outcomes. Because speaking of retreating to 1953, it’s awfully easy to shove the responsibility for future generations onto women’s chests, rather than addressing true social inequities that can impact children’s lives. Maybe if we stopped wasting energy trying to prove how evil formula is, and just accepted it as part of life – not a slap in the face to our mammary glands, or an excuse for idiots to treat nursing mothers as horribly as they do now – we would have more energy to understand and destroy these inequities.

Or, you know, we could do what we always do and spend time looking for vague connections to the formula industry to discredit the study authors. Because that’s a really great way of helping families thrive.

 

 

 

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.


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31 thoughts on “Win-win or lose-lose: Study suggests breast may not “beat” bottle in multiple long-term outcomes

  1. I am wondering about the exclusivity of breastfeeding here. How exclusively and for how long did the moms breastfeed the “breastfed” babies? I cannot access the full article and so don’t know the answers…which are missing from any of the press releases. Also, it seems as though conditions such as ear infections, respiratory infections, stomach viruses and allergies were left off of their list of examined outcomes? I think many moms decide to breastfeed in the hopes of their babies avoiding more general illnesses such as these, and not as much for any IQ and/or behavior reasons. If one is going to the trouble to perform one of the first reportedly controlled studies of its kind, why leave those factors out of the equation? I am confused.

    • Your comment was exactly what I was thinking while I read the article.

      “Breastfeeding has been shown to be protective against many illnesses, including painful ear infections, upper and lower respiratory ailments, allergies, intestinal disorders, colds, viruses, staph, strep and e coli infections, diabetes, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, many childhood cancers, meningitis, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, salmonella, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome(SIDS) as well as lifetime protection from Crohn’s Disease, ulcerative colitis, some lymphomas, insulin dependent diabetes, and for girls, breast and ovarian cancer.” (LLLI)
      Yet none of these were even looked into.
      It makes me also wonder who funding the research.

      • Renee, this study only looked at 11 outcomes. They were quite clear about that. The door is open for other similar studies to be conducted on the outcomes listed in that paragraph. And frankly, the wording used here (“breastfeeding has been shown to be protective”) is inaccurate – it hasn’t been “shown to be protective”, it as been “associated with a protective effect against…” It would be just as rational for me to say I questioned the funding because they were making absolutist, inaccurate claims about breastfeeding’s benefits.

        Just because a study comes out that has an outcome we don’t like, doesn’t mean that the authors were in the pockets of a specific industry. And even if they had received funding from a formula company – so what? Data is data. This was previously collected information, not collected by the researchers themselves – so it’s tough to see how bias or industry funding would alter the results.

        • From what I can see in the link that someone shared below, breastfeeding status was determined by a “yes” or “no” answer from the mothers? If this is right, that’s an extremely loosely defined variable. “Did you breastfeed your baby?” “Yes, but I had to stop at 2 weeks because of nipple pain.” “Did you breastfeed your baby?” “Yes, for 6 months, but I also had to give formula supplements as there were weight gain concerns.” “Did you breastfeed your baby?” “Yes, exclusively, for 16 months.” “Did you breastfeed your baby?” “Yes, exclusively for 3 months, until I had to return to work.” Is “yes” all that was necessary to qualify a “breastfed” baby in this study? If so…this is not a scientific approach to the questions at hand. Validity becomes a big problem with the generated data.

          For the record, I don’t think that when it comes to behavior issues, math skills, reading comprehension and the like…that a breastfed baby would necessarily perform better just due to breastmilk or vice versa. I think there are so many other factors in the mix before a child starts school to impact these results. And absolutely good parenting – which I believe can happen with or without a bottle – is a critical component to a child’s academic success, behavior, and probably BMI in many cases.

          Anyway, as a nursing student who has been trained to critically analyze these types of studies – I’m interested in good science. And at first glance, that seems to be lacking here. Please correct me if I’m mistaken!!

          • The study did account for BF duration, but not for the reasons that breastfeeding was stopped. Nor did it account for exclusivity or amount of breastmilk vs formula, or if the babies were mixed fed, or when they started solids. These are definitely limitations.

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  3. Yes, yes, yes!!! All of it is such a distraction from actually ensuring that mothers, children, women, men, people are cared for and can care for each other to live healthy, productive, meaningful lives. Life isn’t a contest where we can tally up all one’s virtues at the end and then win a grand prize. I wish there was more focus on caring for others than for doing the “right” thing (as though there is only one right thing). You’re the best, Suzanne!

  4. Oh, but I still love that study. Really well done statistically and one of the authors went to school with a certain colleague of mine who is also awesome.

  5. This website pulls a section that addresses duration of breastfeeding. The study is really long and there’s so much to report on. I wouldn’t mind seeing more posts about this!

    I have to say, I’d thought I’d come to terms with my inability to breastfeed, but I really am relieved to see this study. I understand what breastfeeding advocates are reacting against but to swing so far in the other direction that breastfeeding becomes the ONLY acceptable method of feeding a baby can be dangerous. In some of the facebook groups I’m in that are for women who have feeding difficulties, I see women who go to crazy lengths taking so many supplements, pumping around the clock, etc because we’re told that “every drop” of breastmilk counts. Not to mention those who make their own “formula” using raw milk and “natural additives.” Hopefully this study will help some women feel a little better about choosing formula.

    • 100% agree. I recently saw a woman whose milk didn’t come in, so she was pushed to give her baby formula rather than letting him starve. Now she wonders if she made the wrong choice, if she should have starved her baby and tried to keep exclusively breastfeeding, because she’s gotten really gross comments from healthcare professionals for how she’s a bad mother for not breastfeeding.

      As soon as “Breast is Best” reached the point that some think breastfeeding is more important than infant health (and parent health), the point that parents feel they have to starve their babies to be good parents, it went too far. I would much rather have happy, well-fed, obese babies with slightly lower immune systems than babies who are starving despite having food readily available. It’s disgusting to me that we’ve created a society where there are people who think that starving a baby is better than giving formula.

    • I was formula fed. 39 years ago. I hardly ever did or do get sick. I have never had trouble in school. Gifted and talented! I had my first kid at 38 and am pregnant again at 39. I have zero health issues and am not even in the remote neighborhood of obese. Probably you’re kid will be just fine too. Oh, and I’m extremely bonded to both my parents.

  6. And this makes me feel better about not being able to exclusively breastfeed. I’ve been quite okay with formula, given the difference it made, and I’m tired of the breastfeeding that we do still do (though I’m not sure if my kid is ready to stop), but every once in a while, I feel bad about not being able to do EBF. Every time I read something like this, it helps. It’s something to set against the stupid guilt.

  7. Thank you for this. I breastfed my first for 2 years and my second for a year and counting, and I will take every opportunity to tell formula feeders that your struggles are as legitimate as mine have been! Formula is not the enemy of breastfeeding; if anything works against breastfeeding it’s the perception that breastfeeding mothers are horrible snobs who look down on other mothers. It’s my job to support all mothers in their choices (and often in feeling like they HAVE no choice) and proving that I know that a happy mother is 100x more beneficial to a child than breast milk. I’m thankful every day that I was able to breastfeed my children, and equally thankful that the unused container of formula that sat in my cupboard those first couple months was there if I had ever needed it!

  8. I think it’s great that this study came out — we need better data given that elaborate public health policies are promoting a feeding practice to millions of women.
    On the other hand, it’s naive to assume there’s a way to frame this data in a way that doesn’t inevitably pit formula feeding as a choice against breastfeeding as a choice. Every decision a parent makes has costs and benefits; when it’s revealed the some of the major benefits of one choice are lower, a non-negligible group of women will alter that choice. And others in her community will start to judge her choice differently.
    For most women, exclusive breastfeeding really is more difficult to make work with: equal parenting, full participation in the workplace during a child’s early years, the ability to take medication, and the option to have other caregivers. Our society has a very screwed up and conflicted set of beliefs about women, paid employment and parenting, but there’s no doubt that if breastfeeding isn’t framed as a patriotic duty to rear healthy ubermenschen for the next generation, society will start to question the choice of women to, for instance, reduce their earning power or stay home in order to breastfeed. Modern society is so utilitarian it don’t really value all the intangibles we weigh when deciding things for our family — it’s all about outcomes. So vague or highly personal benefits, such as “I hate finding bottle parts” or “I enjoy the quiet bonding time of nursing my youngster” or “it’s a way for me to feel connected to a slower pace of life” or whatever — are unlikely to be respected as valid reasons for making that choice when pitted against more concrete, “measurable” tradeoffs associated with breastfeeding.

    • I hear what you’re saying about how essentially watering down the benefit of one choice will make it harder to get support for that choice, but that doesn’t apply just o breastfeeding, or to any parenting decision. And, when it comes to policies designed to promote public health, I think it is important that the data support those policies. And ever since the ACA came out making such a strong statement in support for breastfeeding for it’s health benefit, the conversation about breast- vs. formula-feeding in this country has turned into one about public health, not just a personal choice.

      Yes, I would very much like to see the US become a bit more attuned to the intangible (and tangible, but indirect and cumulative) benefits of emotional health. If a mother prefers to breastfeed in order to find quiet bonding time with their child, I would assert that there is a long-term social and likely health benefit to that. Similarly, if a mother chooses to formula feed because it allows her to comfortably bond, without fear of nipple/breast pain, with her child, I believe there is a long-term social and likely health benefit to that as well. But neither of these statements has yet been verified rigorously, and I suspect neither is likely to ever be.

      But when a law like ACA so affirmatively supports one method of feeding, it enshrines a national belief in the vast superiority of that method. And increasingly (though not surprisingly to many of us) it is clear that the evidence demonstrating the superiority of that method is not so solid…or at a minimum the full spectrum of benefits believed to be associated with that method is not so broad. And, unfortunately, the implementation of any policy comes at the cost of what could have been done instead. In this case, there is more ore less incontrovertible evidence that certain things improve health outcomes. Chief among them, a period of paid maternity leave (even as little as 6 weeks). Imagine if instead of requiring support for breastfeeding, the ACA had mandated health insurance provide a minimum amount of support for post-partum recovery. My guess is that the public health benefit would have far outweighed what is likely to be achieved through the ACA’s mandates regarding breastfeeding. And, ironically, the breastfeeding rate is also likely to go up since mothers will have the necessary time to establish a breastfeeding relationship.

      As a new mother, I was nowhere near prepared for the vicious battle regarding breastfeeding into which I have been slingshotted. Similarly, I was not fully prepared for the countless number of challenges I have faced trying to establish breastfeeding. And what saddens me most is that all the energy wasted drawing battle lines has distracted from honest and constructive conversation (and information) on how to best care for my child in the long run.

      • So now you have me wondering (a pure thought exercise, mind you; I’m just curious)… how would health insurance support formula feeding, if you wanted to do both? For nursing mothers, the ACA provides coverage of breast pumps and lactation consultant visits. I can’t provide a justification for the pumps being covered by health insurance (I suppose one could argue that pumps can relieve discomfort in the mother? It’s a stretch), but LC visits could be considered a medical appointment in some sense (since lactation difficulties can cause physical problems for the mother). But what’s the parallel in formula feeding? Covering formula would cost WAAAY more in the long run that a breast pump does, and besides–formula is a FOOD, not a medication. Maybe provide an equivalent amount of formula to the cost of the breast pump the plan provides? I don’t know, but now I’m curious about how that would work…

        • In regards to insurance companies covering the cost of a pump, it makes sense in the form of prevention/treatment of breast infections. Not all pumps are covered, but a good pump costs a chunk of change that many new moms just can’t afford. If their milk is coming in fast and furious with a newborn, pumping for comfort between feedings means they will reduce their risk of engorgement which very frequently leads to plugged ducts and mastitis. Those conditions often lead to a trip to the doctor for mom and sometimes a course of antibiotics. So in that way it makes sense that health insurance companies would cover the cost of a pump. As for covering lactation consultant visits, as far as I know, it is on a case by case basis. We had a lot of lactation help with our little one born last May, and none of it was covered. 🙁

      • You write: “If a mother prefers to breastfeed in order to find quiet bonding time with their child….Similarly, if a mother chooses to formula feed because it allows her to comfortably bond, without fear of nipple/breast pain, with her child…” I formula fed my son and would like to argue that I FED him in order to have quiet bonding time with him. Well and I fed him so he wouldn’t starve. Why does that statement need clarification as if it were different in desire or outcome because of what the child was being fed rather than the intent and motivation of the mother when feeding the child? Plenty of breastfeeding women multitask while they feed their child. I takes two hands to formula feed, there is no multitasking and quite a bit of staring at your child’s face and watching their eyelashes grow. Literally.

  9. Suzie, excellent! Though I think this study is interesting, I haven’t spent much time reading it but I did get a researcher friend’s take on it (hey, when time is limited ask an expert), and no, he’s not a breastfeeding advocate, just a scientist that loves information. Anyway, he did point out some flaws in the study (i.e. babies that were breastfed just once a week were included in the breastfeeding sample) but he did say he felt the research certainly raised some questions and he’d like to see more research done. Granted, I think he always says he’d like to see more research done, he’s a researcher.

    But all the research aside, the social implications of how we relate together real boils down to no amount of research should change how we treat each other, respect and kindness should always be our approach. Thank you Suzie!

    ~Jessica

  10. Please avoid being bowled over by this study. It’s not well done. Breastfeeding is poorly defined – we need to know (but cannot, because of the lack of precision in the data) how much of the breastfeeding was exclusive. The health effects are provided by what looks like the pragmatic use of data from the cohort study availlable – this can surely be the only reason why ‘behavioural compliance’ is in there as a desirable outcome.

    In addition, in attempting to avoid the confounders that can bedevil research in this field, the authors have brought in other confounders. Crrudely put, if intelligent, healthy mothers are more likely to breastfeed, then it is this that could be producing the benefits of breastfeeding,not the breastmilk unless you control for the intelligence and health factors . So lets look at ‘discordent siblings’ , fed differently but from identical backgrounds- good idea? Not so much. You get the confounder of herediity and identical or very similar parenting which may overwhelm any differences caused by feeding…especially short periods of breastfeeding.

    It is worth looking at a couple of UK critiiques:

    http://www.nhs.uk/news/2014/02February/Pages/Breast-milk-no-better-than-bottled-researcher-claims.aspx

    http://thethoughtfulpublisher.blogspot.fr/2014/02/new-breastfeeding-research-approach.html

    • Heather, I’m a bit confused as to why you’d think I was “bowled over’ by this study. Did you read the post?

      As for your point about exclusivity, I agree. Here are some questions that I posed over on the FFF FB page in light of a discussion on this very issue. These should be applied to the entire canon of infant feeding research, if we are going to dismiss studies on these grounds:

      1. How many studies actually do specify exclusivity and duration? If we are going to dismiss any past studies which have not accounted for this, how many does that leave us, and shouldn’t some metastudies be done with the remaining ones to see what results hold true?

      2. How can we really assess exclusivity unless a researcher is in the room with the baby for its entire first year of life? What if the mom feeds a bit of formula but it too ashamed to admit it, thus rendering that baby invalid for the study? Would we have any way of knowing that this even happened, realistically?

      3. If we are going to argue that exclusivity matters this much, I wonder what that will do to public health messaging. Will women be told that if they can’t do it exclusively for “x” amount of months , they shouldn’t bother?

    • Respectfully, I think you missed the most important point of the study which is that the methods used to estimate the effects of breastfeeding suffer from confounding, and that this confounding is not eliminated even when you control for lots of socio-economic variables. The authors found significant associations between breastfeeding and a number of outcomes. But these associations disappeared when looking at discordant pairs. That suggests that, even when controlling for a large number of variables (maternal education, smoking, prenatal care, family income, etc), a large cohort study on breastfeeding is still very likely to be biased. The Ohio State study does not prove whether on not breastfeeding is equivalent to bottle feeding, it simply suggests that the way we study breastfeeding outcomes are likely flawed.

      This jibes with other research findings on breastfeeding. The better you control for socio-economic variables, the more attenuated the correlations with positive (or negetive) outcomes become The results from the PROBIT studies come to mind. I think the explanation for their results is quite simple: Breastfeeding is a very good marker for maternal resources, health, and dedication. The better you control for these factors, the weaker the association between breastfeeding and positive outcomes get.

      The sad fact is that scientific studies will probably never provide a definitive answer on which feeding method is best for a baby’s health. Breastmilk might be quite beneficial; it might even be harmful. We simply cannot conduct the type of research we need to draw any firm conclusions. (Incidentally, I believe this is true for nearly all of life’s most pressing questions, and I say this as a staff scientist working at a research hospital.) Given the low quality of evidence for the benefits of breastfeeding (in the first world, with the exception of a couple of minor outcomes restricted to infancy), I cannot for the life of me understand why public health agencies are pushing it so hard.

      Women everywhere: DO WHATEVER YOU THINK IS BEST FOR YOU AND YOUR CHILD, and know that if someone uses the phrase “scientifically proven” when talking to you about breast vs bottle, that person is speaking with certainty on a topic where there is none.

  11. Suzanne, I wasn’t particularly meaning you when i cautioned against being bowled over 🙂

    I have not dismissed the study either – maybe you weren’t particularly meaning me with that comment.

    Much infant feeding research is dogged by poor definition of breastfeeding. More recently, researchers have been better at avoiding this – the study under discussion now can’t avoid iit, because their paper data (ie not research they have undertaken themselves) does not contain this information). I can cite several studies which do define breastfeeding better – look at the data coming out of the UK Milllennium cohort, for example, or the ALSPAC cohort.. Meta studies have, of course, been done.

    I am happy to have exclusivity reported by the mother and risk a bit of fudging. Some studies accept ‘predominant’ breastfeeding as a proxy for exclusive (Kramer, for example). Just as this study here used self-report – as it points out, maternal recall is pretty accurate, though I am sure some mothers will say they breastfed for x weeks and they really did it for y, or they say they breastfed and did not at all.

    I really don’t know how much exclusivity matters – there are plenty of indicators that it s worth studying to see how much, but we will get nowhere if studies not even looking at it are welcomed because they show stuff like ‘behavioral compliance’ or ‘number recognition’ at ages 4-14 is unaffected by breastfeeding (undefined).

  12. My sister was exclusively breastfed for a year and breastfed in general until she was two. I was formula fed. Because I was severely lactose intolerant. So here is an example with confirmed exclusive breastfeeding. My sister gets sick more often to this day (I’m 39 and she is 35). She has allergies, I do not. She has to watch her weight. I do not. I did better in school. My sister has mild allergies, is not fat, and did well in school. If you put us next to each other you wouldn’t see the subtle differences without testing our intelligence and looking at our eating habits. Certainly it would not be possible to determine which of us was the breastfed child. I would argue I am very bonded with both my parents. My mother always said I was such an easy baby sleeping through the night as soon as we came home from the hospital. A few weeks before my son was born I said something to my father about hoping the baby would get my sleeping genes. My father’s response was, “only your mother was sleeping through the night.” I do feel very bonded to my father as well. But why does this matter? At all? We pop prenatal vitamins from gummy ones to organic ones. We don’t go around shrieking and condemning women for taking a prenatal instead of eating the perfect combination of foods to avoid a FDA approved vitamin! But FDA approved formula is fat poison? Which study suggests prenatals are safer than formula and that prenatals are equal to or better than the perfect diet? Why isn’t the way you feed your child the other 17+ years important? What about how P.E. and recess have been cut back and extended after school care prevents children from going home and running around after school which would most likely help them pay better attention in school and ward off obesity? Why do women need to feel that they have a 100% guaranteed irrefutable pass because they breastfed for a year? Do they really believe it’s a golden ticket for their child’s future? Are they so incredibly terrified of the uncontrollable that they will cling to anything that suggests a better outcome? Is it a short cut in parenting? My next 17 years will be easier than yours because you formula fed…ultimately I would think if you breastfed you’d keep your mouth shut and be glad that there is one child less out there that your child will have to compete with for a college acceptance, great job, etc., in the future.

    • Wendy, I was a formula fed baby. My Mom tried, but due to a lack of support in establishing a good latch, did not continue. I do not think she screwed me over, or gave me less of a chance, etc. Our bond was incredible, and I 100% believe that it had to do with who she was as a Mom as a whole. She was awesome, and so I grew up happy and relatively healthy. (As an aside, it is really interesting that you were lactose intolerant -not just allergic to casein, the milk protein – as an infant – that is an extremely rare condition. That is definitely a case where formula would be best!) With my daughter, I have chosen to breastfeed exclusively, and once we hit a year of EBF, I hope to become a breastfeeding counselor. I make this choice because, quite simply, I think breastmilk is really wonderful and interesting. Not because I think formula is evil or the opposite of breastmilk. I am just fascinated by how much breastmilk can do, like how it changes with my baby’s nutritional needs, how it gives her antibodies to fight off illnesses, and how she gives me her own antibodies while nursing so my body can fight off any illnesses of hers as well. I belong to breastfeeding support groups and hear time and again the horror stories of people ridiculing breastfeeding mothers for being “indecent” for putting their breast in their child’s mouth, or nursing without a full cover even though no part of their breast is exposed, or people constantly trying to sneak formula to their babies because they just can’t believe that a baby could drink enough milk in a 5 minute nursing session, or pediatricians who aren’t educated in breastfeeding berating mothers because the peds are using growth scales that only apply to formulas fed infants who generally grow at a different rate. I am so thankful that I have not personally had any of those experiences. I never hear Moms on those sites boasting of how their kids will be smarter in the long run and that they now have a free pass to be a crappy parent for the rest of the time because they breastfed. If you have encountered breastfeeding moms who have said those things, or insinuated them, that it awful. I do believe that breastmilk is obviously designed to be the “perfect” nutrition for babies. I also believe that many women who would like to breastfeed but end up switching to formula do so because they do not have the necessary support at home, at work, from their community,from their child’s pediatrician, etc. Unfortunately, there is a prevailing idea out there that females should not trust their bodies to be able to do all the wonderful things that they are designed to do – excessive interventions during child birth comes to mind here. And there are so many myths that need to be expelled regarding reasons breastfeeding is “hard” – i.e. “you can’t take meds while BFing” when in reality, the majority of meds are safe to take while BFing, docs just aren’t trained to learn which are and aren’t, so they often give misinformation. So I think that ultimately, it is great that there is a lot of support that is gaining momentum for us breastfeeders, because breastfeeding is a good thing that needs to be supported and recognized as such. And there should also be support and understanding for those who cannot breastfeed for a multitude of reasons. Nobody should look down on a mom who is sincerely trying to give their child the very best nutrition they can for whatever their situation may be – whether that is formula, or breastmilk.

  13. Pingback: Breast Is (Not Actually?) Best | Stumbling Gracefully

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