Breastfeeding Benefits Overstated, Study Says

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Slate has an interesting piece this week about a new study which found that the benefits of breastfeeding may have been overblown—drastically.


Researchers, who published the study in the journal Social Science & Medicine, did two things differently than researchers who studied breastfeeding previously. For one, they used pairs of so-called "discordant siblings" who were fed differently as infants—one sibling was breastfed and the other was not—instead of unrelated kids. And rather than looking at them as infants or toddlers, as is typically done in these kinds of studies, researchers waited until their subjects were older, using kids who were between ages four and 14. These two important tweaks, the authors say, yielded startlingly different results than previous studies and cast a new light on  the breastfeeding vs. bottle-feeding debate.

Here's how it worked: Researchers looked at a subject pool of more than 8,000 kids, a quarter of whom were discordant sibling pairs. They graded each kid according to 11 measures, including BMI, obesity, asthma, intelligence, hyperactivity and parental attachment. Listen to this:

When children from different families were compared, the kids who were breast-fed did better on those 11 measures than kids who were not breast-fed. But, as Colen points out, mothers who breast-feed their kids are disproportionately advantaged—they tend to be wealthier and better educated. When children fed differently within the same family were compared—those discordant sibling pairs—there was no statistically significant difference in any of the measures, except for asthma. Children who were breast-fed were at a higher risk for asthma than children who drank formula.

Like I said: interesting, right?

The authors say the idea here isn't to prove that breastfeeding is bad, but just that the benefits of it may have been a tad overblown in previous research. Such news would certainly bring a sigh of relief to non-breastfeeding moms who are often made to feel guilty by studies that, well, exaggerate the exaggerations.

Read the full story over at Slate.

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