Breast is not always Best

Sep
2014
04

posted by on Points of view

In a former life (or part of my life at least) I worked on a client campaign to promote baby bottles. I remember their point of view as being – yes breast may be best, but not everyone is able to do so, in which case bottles are the means to feed your baby, and their particular bottles had teats designed to be beneficial orthodontically (as the baby’s mouth develops and teething starts). And yet there was outrage from certain sectors of the breast is best campaign that we’d ever try to promote an alternative.

One of the things I’ve seen a lot of in my baby massage classes, are women who have struggled to breast-feed, eventually lapsing into bouts of depression and generally feeling like bad mums because they just were not able to do it. I believe that this problem is exacerbated within the Brighton area, as the focus here is on ‘natural, holistic, and eco’ in every part of our lives, but especially within that of child rearing.

I always tell them not worry – this is the case for many women, and their babies still end up fine. In their honour, I’ve dedicated some time to scouring the online debates and news articles (of which there are hundreds), trying to pick away the biased commentary, and get down to the serious research about how much of a difference bottle-feeding really makes, and this is a synopsis of what I’ve found…

The NHS website and the New York Times both refer to a recent large US study (by the department of sociology at Ohio State University) that has found that: “Breast milk is ‘no better for a baby than bottled milk’ and it increases the risk of asthma”. This ‘cohort study’ used data from the US National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), with the aim of seeing if breastfeeding made a difference to outcomes for children between the ages of 4 and 14 (after socioeconomic factors were taken into account) in regards to better health and academic success. They found that overall, breastfed children had statistically better outcomes in 9 out of 11 areas. However, an association between breastfeeding and higher rates of asthma was also found. Then, when they looked at children from the same family who had been fed differently (one bottle-fed, one breastfed), they found no statistically significant differences in outcomes for breastfed and bottle-fed children. The researchers therefore concluded that there is little evidence that breastfeeding improves outcomes, and it is more likely instead that the influence of the children’s genes and environment played a bigger role than whether or not they had been breastfed. The NHS website goes on to clarify that breastfeeding is still the recommended option, however “the lack of a significant difference between siblings who were fed differently seen in this study should allay maternal fears if they are unable to breastfeed their baby”. You can read the full article here: http://goo.gl/dTsbK4 and here’s the New York Times link: http://goo.gl/GRTYwX.

Additionally, The Mail Online reported back in 2010 of a review of more than 50 studies into the relationship between health and breast-feeding by Professor Carlsen, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, that concluded that the longer a child is nursed, the healthier it will be, but because of a healthier pregnancy, not the breast milk. His research shows that high levels of the male sex hormone testosterone in the womb affect a woman’s ability to produce milk and to breast-feed. With testosterone levels affected by the health of the placenta, which ferries oxygen and nutrients to the baby, the professor believes high amounts indicate poorer conditions in the womb overall. This means that any differences in the health of a baby bottle-fed because its mother finds breastfeeding difficult are set before birth, rather than afterwards. You can read the full article here: http://goo.gl/80Y07

In the interest of fair debate, I must report that all studies to date have shown that breastfeeding is good for both you and your baby – with a long list of reasons for you to choose it as the means to feed your baby, which is why the health care professionals created the campaign in the first place… and I am in no way disputing this. However, if a new mother cannot breast-feed (which can happen for a variety of reasons), even with the consultation of a lactation specialist, then it’s good to know that the alternative is not actually bad for your baby, as some groups seem to make out, and that mother should most certainly not be made to feel guilty about it.

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