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The Breast/Bottle Battle Rages On

May 23, 2014

Our boobs are up for grabs once again, friends.  The breast vs. bottle argument lives on, resistant to all forms of pesticides.  To review:

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend six months of exclusive breast-feeding for all infants, citing studies that show breast milk is easily digestible and has nutrients that are superior to or absent from infant formulas, including immunological substances that reduce rates of infection and fatty acids important in brain development.

Not so fast, AAP and WHO!  Back in March a study came out in the journal Social Science and Medicine  ( that suggests that many of the benefits listed above come not from breast feeding itself but from the social and economic status of those who can breastfeed for six months.  The New York Times alerted the world to this new research in it’s blog section:  This study, out of Ohio State University, compared more than 1,700 sibling pairs in which one sibling was breast fed and the other was not.  The researchers found no difference in any of the common measures cited by breast-feeding advocates.  Here’s how NYT blogger Nicholas Bakalar sums it up:

“The researchers recorded various health and behavioral outcomes in the sibling pairs, including body mass index, obesity, asthma, hyperactivity, reading comprehension, math ability and memory-based intelligence. The study found no statistically significant differences between the breast-fed and bottle-fed siblings on any of these measures.”

He then goes on to say “Compared with bottle-fed infants, breast-fed babies are more likely to be born into families with higher incomes, have parents with higher educational attainments, and live in safer neighborhoods with easier access to health care services.”

Oh.  To no one’s surprise the breast feeding debate has social and racial undertones.  Or maybe not so under.

Let’s look again at that AAP and WHO recommendation.  Exclusive breast feeding for six months.  As a reminder, the breasts under discussion are attached to a real live woman.  Maternity leave, six to twelve weeks unpaid, doesn’t add up to six months.  Most women can’t afford to take that much time off.  So the breasts have to go to work, taking the woman with them.  Well, then, you say, just pump.  Uh huh.  The woman at her minimum wage job as a waitress or a burger flipper or a maid can definitely disappear for 20 minutes every three hours to play cow.  That’s assuming her workplace has any storage space for breastmilk or any place to do it other than a stall in the ladies room.  And have you ever pumped?  Any of you men at the AAP?  It sucks, literally.

But say you’re one of the lucky ones.  You get to make an actual choice.  You’ve read all the studies (except maybe the Ohio one?).  You have a supportive husband, excellent childcare, and freedom to pump at will or take six months off at will.  Guess what?  Those babies are going to do better than the poor babies no matter what you feed them.  Society has not provided the supports to poor women that wealthy women are able to obtain for themselves, nor has it provided the same level of educational and health-related options that wealthier kids have.

What struck me the most about the NYT article was not the piece itself, but the comments.  Check out just the top 10 and you’ll see what I mean.  Ladies, please, I’m begging you, can we please stop with the breast/bottle battle?   So much hating on each other!  Motherhood is tough.  Can we honor each other for doing the best we can?  Please?



From → Motherhood

  1. Excellent! There’s a hint that you breast-fed, which makes your even-handed treatment of this fraught topic even more admirable. I’ve got a daughter (breast-fed) and one daughter-in-law who did, and one daughter-in-law who adamantly didn’t. Women most of all should respect each others choices. And as you note, the “natural” approach in today’s world involves a lot of not-quite-so natural adjustments. Although maybe we should revive wet-nursing.

    • Thanks for reading. I’m pleased you got the breast-feeding vibe from me, for the purposes of this post. I actually tried breast-feeding with my first, and the baby and I both hated it. I went to formula and was far happier. So was my baby. It is a completely personal decision and shouldn’t have anything to do with anyone else’s opinion.

  2. davebrown9 permalink

    “…studies that show breast milk … has nutrients that are superior to or absent from infant formulas, including … fatty acids important in brain development.”

    I’m interested, from a layman’s perspective, in the fatty acid content of our modernized food supply. Mostly, I’m interested in the effects of high omega-6 linoleic acid (LA) consumption.

    I recently learned that during the third trimester of pregnancy, the mother’s body extracts fatty acids from fat stores to build brain tissue. In addition, 80 percent of breast milk fatty acid content is derived from the mother’s fat stores. We see, then, that the quality of a brain post construction/development depends upon the quality of the fat stored in the mother’s body. In cases where the mother routinely eats a diet rich in LA and deficient in the omega-3s required for proper brain development, formula feeding would likely be advantageous if it contains the correct fatty acid profile.

    • Thanks for reading! You are correct, however scientific arguments will never get you very far in the breast/bottle wars.

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