Is breast best? Maybe not — at least not in the long run.
A study published in the journal Social Science and Medicine followed children, some breast fed, some bottle fed — and found that there is not much difference in how the kids turned out after babyhood. According to Slate, breastfed and bottle fed kids were measured for “11 outcomes, including BMI, obesity, asthma, different measures of intelligence, hyperactivity, and parental attachment.
And there just wasn’t much difference.
Huh? That’s not what we’re used to hearing. We’ve been told that a child who was breastfed as a baby is practically guaranteed to edge out his bottle fed peers in almost every area. So why does this study tell a different story?
Here’s why this study is different: it didn’t compare breastfed children with bottle fed children; it compared breastfed children with their bottle fed siblings. The way they were raised — the education level of their parents, their economic status — was the same in every way. The only difference was how they were fed.
In previous studies, bottle fed children scored lower than breastfed children because bottle fed children tend to be less advantaged in many other ways, which accounts for things like poorer health, lower scores in school, behavior problems, etc. Slate explains:
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.
Why is this important? Because, in some circles, there is enormous pressure put upon women in difficult situations to breastfeed no matter what the physical or emotional cost to baby, mother, or family. I’ve written about breastfeeding bullies before, and I’m reprinting that post here.
Breastfeeding is lovely, breastfeeding is a gift, breastfeeding is practically a miracle. I have breastfed for something like 150 months of my life, and my 26-month-old toddler isn’t weaned yet. I know why women breastfeed, and I believe that, in general, it’s good for women and for families, as well as for babies. I know why it’s important. But I also know a good many mothers, excellent, dedicated, generous, tenderhearted mothers, who feed their babies with bottles.
It’s wrong to tell women that the only way to be a good mother is to breastfeed. It isn’t right. It isn’t compassionate. And now, we discover, it probably isn’t even medically sound.