Study shows breastfeeding is over-rated

formulaWhen we first started the adoption process, the one disappointment I felt was that my child would miss out on the benefits of breast milk, as I will not be breastfeeding. Will he or she be unhealthy and get sick all of the time? Is formula bad for a baby? Will it take longer for us to bond?

Breastfeeding is the gold standard these days and both the medical and mommy community tout it as the very best thing you can do for your child. That’s all you ever hear about it. Breast is best, yada yada. Like everyone else, I simply accepted that as fact because, well, it makes sense that the best thing for a baby would be milk from the most natural source. I’m from the organic generation and I have a healthy mistrust of processed food. But, I’ve been reading more and more studies and articles that claim to prove that the benefits of breastfeeding are majorly over-rated.

Unreliable Studies

Not that there aren’t benefits to breastfeeding, but I’ve learned that previous studies have all relied on comparing children of mothers who breastfeed to children of mothers who formula feed. In those studies, there have been differences between the two groups of children in terms of intelligence and health, etc. BUT there are major issues with those studies because they are essentially comparing two different families–apples to oranges.

What would be more conclusive would be to compare two babies in the same family, with the same mother, one who was breastfed and one who was formula fed. This would give you a much more accurate result of the actual benefits of breastmilk over formula because other variables would be consistent.

And that’s exactly what the study referenced in this article from did. Here’s an excerpt:

As the study’s lead author, Ohio State University assistant professor Cynthia Colen, said 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.”

Colen’s study is also unique because she looked at children ages 4-14. Often breast-feeding studies only look at the effects on children in their first years of life. She looked at more than 8,000 children total, about 25 percent of whom were in “discordant sibling pairs,” which means one was bottle-fed and the other was breast-fed. The study then measured those siblings for 11 outcomes, including BMI, obesity, asthma, different measures of intelligence, hyperactivity, and parental attachment.

 When children from different families were compared, the kids who were breast-fed did better on 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.


Baby’s health depends on much more than breastmilk

I’ve read that, in general, breastfeeding mothers are (typically) better educated, don’t smoke or drink during pregnancy, get excellent prenatal care, eat healthy before and during pregnancy, provide more stimulating environments in infancy, and tend to belong to higher socioeconomic classes than mothers who don’t breastfeed–all things that might affect a baby’s health and intellect more so than breastfeeding. (Of course this is a sweeping general statement–I know many brilliant, healthy mothers who did not breastfeed and vice versa.)

Unfortunately, I can’t control many of these factors because I’m adopting, but at least I can sleep better at night knowing that formula feeding won’t be putting my baby at a disadvantage. And I can do everything else in my power to create a stimulating and healthy environment for my child after he or she is born.

Here’s another great post worth reading about formula feeding by Amy Sullivan, a biological mother who chose not to breastfeed: The Unapologetic Case for Formula-Feeding. She also talks about the advantages of having both parents able to feed the baby–something you can really only do consistently when formula feeding.

There is so much pressure in our society for women to breastfeed. I know many women who struggle and struggle with breastfeeding but keep trying because of what other women would say to or about them if they didn’t. I’m sure that if I were to adopt a baby that looked enough like me to pass for my biological child, I would get stares and disapproving looks while bottle feeding. People (and for some sad reason, other mothers in particular) love to be judgmental.

So, to all of you adoptive mothers and fathers out there, and to biological mothers who can’t, or who have chosen not to, breastfeed, let me just say this: Don’t let society make you feel bad or less than! Breastmilk is not going to make or break your baby, determine his or her intellect or health, or how strongly he or she bonds to you. There are many other factors at play here–some you can control and others you can’t. But there are plenty of ways to give your baby a healthy, loving, and smart start.

Photo credit: A man gives a bottle of formula to his newborn baby at a hospital in Angers, France. Photo by Jean-Sebastien Evrard/AFP/Getty Images

5 thoughts on “Study shows breastfeeding is over-rated

  1. Interesting study! Maybe I’ll feel differently when I’m actually pregnant or after we have our baby, but I don’t really get all of the hype about breastfeeding either. I think with formula it is nice because mom & dad can both help out and have that bonding time…..not to mention the time. I plan on taking 12 weeks off when we have a baby, but I don’t want to be a slave to the pump every 3 hours like so many of my friends. I want to be able to enjoy wine and be able to leave the house for more than 3 hour spans without the baby/pump. It’s “funny” how judgmental people are about breastfeeding. I don’t see why it’s anyone’s business really.

    1. There is so much hype. I actually felt really badly about not being able to breastfeed at one point. But I’ve seen a lot of research lately that has made me feel so much better. The more time I spend on “mommy blogs” I see how much pressure there is to breastfeed, and how judgmental people are when we should just be supporting one another. I think it’s just awful. To each their own. Breastfeeding doesn’t work for everyone. And that’s OK. Like you said, there are many advantages to formula feeding. You should read that blog post I linked to by Amy Sullivan–she’s a biological mother who talks a lot about the big role her husband has played because she chose not to breastfeed. She’s pretty sassy about it. 🙂

  2. Hali

    I too was feeling really bad about not being able to breastfeed when we adopted, knowing how good and important breast milk was for development and prevention of allergies etc. I was worried and really want to give our future baby the best start possible. I did a ton of research on options for obtaining breast milk from other mothers, milkbanks, and even a way to induce production yourself!! But what really put my mind at ease was a conversation i had with an friend who is an older very earthy/ natural wise “crunchy” doula. I asked her opinion and thought for sure she would say “breast milk is best” but actually told me to not stress it. Breast milk is of course great if you can do it but there are some very nutritionally equal organic formulas on the market that will nourish and give the baby all it needs. She said the more important factor of breast feeding that impacts the baby’s development is that actual process. The bonding, the skin-on-skin, the comforting, holding etc. She encouraged me to try to recreate the experience. That is what is the most beneficial for momma and baby. I thought it was great advice and made me feel much more confident that my baby wasn’t doomed to ill health but could thrive and feel loved and attached to me..even with formula!

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