When 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.
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 Slate.com 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