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Breast IS best

February 18, 2011
by

Is breast really best?

I’m torn by this article (click the link above). I’ve started following the Babble blogs because some of them are actually very good. Some of them I certainly don’t agree with, but like anything else I pick and choose. But this article – it kind of made me mad. I think the author is coming from a good place – don’t put undue pressure on new mothers who already have so much to worry about. I understand this – breastfeeding was my number one fear  when I was pregnant (aside from pooping during the birth). Would I be able to? Would she have problems latching? Would I have supply issues? This was only fed by the hospital midwife who told me my nipples were flat and I WOULD have problems (yea, that was the first and last time I saw that woman). So yes, lots of pressure to breastfeed.

However, she writes as though breastfeeding does not really have all the benefits it has been found to have. She states “What I discovered is that our certainty that “breast is best” far exceeds what the evidence tells us. This misguided confidence in breastfeeding stems from our poor understanding of science.” Hmm. As a scientist, I find this number one insulting. I do not have as poor understanding of science and neither do most moms I know. Number two not true! There are countless studies that have PROVEN the benefits of breastfeeding and they continue to be published. Okay, granted we do not know the specific components of breast milk. Yes, that is scientifically unproven. But the difference between formula fed and breastfed babies that have been studied so far prove/suggest/correlate (use whichever descriptor you feel best – they’re all positive) that breastfeeding leads to less obesity, increased immune response, enhanced development/intelligence. No, correlation is not causation (I went to graduate school, this was drilled into me), however when multiple studies show benefits its hard to refute. And yes, she has a point that one good study could refute ten bad studies but I haven’t seen one really good unflawed study that disproves the benefits of breastfeeding. neither has the surgeon general or the WHO.

I do believe that environment influences a lot of a child’s development. So the mother may breastfeed, but she may also smoke or drink, or not engage the baby in ways other breastfeeding mothers might. In which case,  breastfeeding alone cannot cancel out the other issues this child is facing. However, when a mother breastfeeds, she bonds with the baby, she introduces her natural immunities to this brand new immune system, she helps the development of the baby’s intestinal microbiome (very important for a healthy GI). And some mothers, lets say those of a certain cultural or socioeconomic status, who may not breastfeed b/c it is not the norm in their culture/environment – if they are taught the benefits of breastfeeding and work with a lactation consultant before they leave the hospital, may go home and decide to breastfeed. And that baby may be a little bit healthier, she may have a little more attention paid to her – things that are extremely important to the development of that baby!

I don’t believe that any breastfeeding advocate is trying to make a mother “feel bad about herself” if she can’t breastfeed. I think it’s the mothers that don’t try, or put it off as a burden (likely often the same mothers who schedule their birth for their convenience), that we are focusing our “Breast is best” argument towards. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

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