Writing a blog post discussing the merits of breastfeeding is not unlike taking a steak in your hand and casually, slowly, trailing said steak along the bars of a lion’s cage. I’ve found this out the hard way on several occasions. Each time I’ve written about breastfeeding, I’ve been amazed at the tempest that ensues.
I’m a slow learner.
According to an Ohio State University study comparing siblings fed differently during infancy, breastfeeding might not be any more beneficial than bottle-feeding for 10 of 11 long-term health/well-being outcomes in kids aged 4-14. In fact, asthma was found to correspond more to breastfed than bottle-fed subjects.
The study included analysis of outcomes in families of different races and socioeconomic circumstances for comparison, and those results matched previous studies saying that breastfeeding benefits outweighed bottle feeding. According to Cynthia Colen, the lead researcher, this is because factors like race, age, family income and mother’s employment all affect both breastfeeding and health outcomes. When these factors are taken away in the case of siblings, the study finds, the issue of breast versus bottle proves “statistically insignificant” in the long term for children with the same family background.
You can read the actual study, but I want to focus on this quote from Colen:
“I’m not saying breast-feeding is not beneficial, especially for boosting nutrition and immunity in newborns,” Colen said. “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.”
CAN I GET AN ‘AMEN,’ PEOPLE???
Sorry, I’ll stop shouting. But yes, yes, yes, YES.
For many people, breastfeeding works: it comes fairly easily to them and they have the ability and inclination to do it. And that’s great. For many others, though, breastfeeding can be a hard road riddled with potholes of guilt–and plagued by difficulty breastfeeding for whatever reasons, many times these moms feel particularly torn that they are ‘failing’ at a way of doing what is best for their child.
I’ve argued before that what’s best for mom is best for child, whether it’s breast or bottle-feeding. There are multiple ways to feed a child, just like there are multiple ways to love a child.
If research shows that there is not that much qualitative difference between the two, then isn’t it possible, possibly, to declare a truce in this particular guilt-ridden battleground of the Mommy Wars?
Let the avid breastfeeding proponents do what they like. Let the bottle feeders keep on keeping on. But maybe, just maybe, this study is a small step for womankind in changing how we see one another and our choices that we make for ourselves and our children.