Latest on the Benefits of Breastfeeding Is Good News for Formula Feeders

For a great many parents, breastfeeding was or is hard work. We trade hours of sleep and sore and bloody nipples in exchange for the promise that we're providing our babies with the best nutrition they can possibly get. We've read studies, listened to our doctors and friends wax poetic about breast milk, and there's no doubt in our minds that breast is simply best.

But what if the benefits of breastfeeding have been overstated? What if you found out your child could receive the exact same health benefits from formula? A new study is claiming just that.

Rather than just look across the board at a random group of children from various socioeconomic backgrounds, the recent study, performed by Ohio State University, also concentrated on siblings within the same family -- one of whom was breastfed and the other bottle fed.

They did find additional benefits among those children who were breastfed when they compared them to children from other backgrounds. But the truly eye-opening part of this study is that when they focused on siblings, breastfeeding's positive effects on 10 of the 11 "indicators of child health and well-being" were really no different from the effects of formula.

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So, basically, two brothers who were fed differently as babies didn't grow up to experience wildly different body mass indexes, scholastic competence, math and vocabulary skills, levels of hyperactivity, or attachment to their parents. In fact, the only major difference researchers could find was that babies who were breastfed were at higher risk for asthma -- but this information was generated by self-reports and not doctors' diagnoses.

The lead author of the study stresses that she still believes breastfeeding is beneficial for nutrition and building immunity in newborns. But she's also arguing that her data reveals many of the benefits we associate with breast milk could have a lot more to do with school quality, housing, and parents' education and employment.

This is an interesting study, and I wonder whether it will serve as hope for women who are physically unable to breastfeed, can't because of work obligations, or have simply decided against it for personal reasons. As a mom who is about to give birth for the second time and had a difficult time breastfeeding the first time around, I'd be lying if I said this doesn't make me feel like I can take a bit of pressure off myself.

How do you feel about the results of this new study? Would this information sway you to consider formula instead of breast milk?

 

Image via nerissa's ring/Flickr

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