The Home Front

The Missing Factor in Latest Breastfeeding Study?

A study of children within families, some breastfed and some not, seemed to show no significant advantages for children who were breastfed. The researcher felt it was important to check the data within families as opposed to across families.

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. Moms with more resources, with higher levels of education and higher levels of income, and more flexibility in their daily schedules are more likely to breast-feed their children and do so for longer periods of time.

Here’s the big unanswered question in this story — did she survey the moms of the siblings to ask about their socioeconomic status at the time of each of the children’s infancies? Did she find out whether or not the circumstances for each pregnancy, birth, and beyond changed for those moms? Couldn’t the child who was breastfed have come at a time when the mom was out of a job and low on money and wasn’t eating well and may have not known about the other health benefits for children? And couldn’t the bottle-fed child have come when the mom had better resources and she had learned those other health benefits?

Maybe mom got on a fitness kick with her last child who she bottle-fed due to an illness and that’s why the last kid is as thin as the first kid who was breastfed. Maybe she wasn’t as exhausted with that last kid (since breastfeeding is tiring) and she was able to spend more time caring for her and developed just as special a bond as the breast-fed child. Maybe mom was only able to teach that last kid her ABCs and such, boosting her academic performance.

I think it’s incorrect to assume that any mom is the same mother to every child.

But maybe I’m just irked that, when asked about her study, the researcher took the opportunity to grandstand for social policies: 

“I’m not saying breast-feeding is not beneficial, especially for boosting nutrition and immunity in newborns. 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.”

I don’t necessarily disagree that we should consider improving all those policies (except bringing the “living wage” nonsense into the mix) — but if we’re talking about the benefits of breastfeeding, let’s stick to the science of the matter at hand.

Find more here.


The Latest