Social Question

JLeslie's avatar

What do you think about the new study that is saying formula is as good as breastmilk?

Asked by JLeslie (47251 points ) February 27th, 2014

Here is an article. They looked at siblings over time where one was bottle fed and the other breast fed and analyzed them on several parameters like health and aptitude and so no significant difference.

The article mentions that former studies saying breast milk was much better than formula were biased because they didn’t account for socioeconomic factors, which is something I had always wondered.

I still like the idea of the real thing, but I do believe this study has significance.

Does the article change your mind if you strongly believe in breastfeeding and even went to the point of judging women who didn’t do it.

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23 Answers

Dutchess_III's avatar

I agree. I breast feed exclusively, but if I hadn’t been able to, for whatever reason, I wouldn’t have felt badly about bottle feeding. I don’t think my kids are any healthier than they would have been if they’d been formula fed.

hominid's avatar

From first glance, it appears that this not reversing the vast scientific understanding we have of the benefits of breastmilk. Rather, it appears that this social demographer chose to look at certain indicators from a sociological perspective.

“Dr Colen said: ‘I’m not saying breastfeeding is not beneficial, especially for boosting nutrition and immunity in newborns.
‘But if we really want to improve maternal and child health, let’s also focus on things that can really do that in the long term – like subsidised day care, better maternity leave policies and more employment opportunities for low-income mothers that pay a living wage, for example.’”

This has a touch of agenda to it. But she is at least giving some lip service to the idea that biologically, there are huge advantages to breastmilk (nutrition and immunity).

@JLeslie: “Does the article change your mind if you strongly believe in breastfeeding and even went to the point of judging women who didn’t do it.”

You and I have had this discussion a few times in the past. And I know your take on it. So, I hesitated to even respond here. If I recall correctly, you feel that advocating for breastfeeding education and providing necessary support for mothers who choose to breastfeed is somehow “shaming” those who either can’t or decide not to. I will not rehash this in its entirety. But will only mention that the supporting women – and the health benefits that the mothers gain from breastfeeding – in education and real support in their efforts is as far from “shaming” as is possible.

This article is interesting. But a single study that appears to contradict vast amounts of scientific data and medical consensus needs more review. It may be correct. Peer review is in order.

EDIT: Full disclosure: My wife is a lactation consultant at a hospital. Before that, she worked as a private practice lactation consultant. And prior to that, she spent years volunteering with La Leche League. I’ve been surrounded by this for 11+ years. I may be too close to the issue. But I also happen to know a lot.

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JLeslie's avatar

@hominid To clarify I have been and still am in favor of providing mothers with information about breastfeeding and help learning how to breastfeed. I fully support the service being available for women at the time of birth. I am at the same time against when it crosses the line and shames or judges women who choose not to breastfeed. I don’t like either side when they cross the line. I don’t want formula pushed on women either.

I think what is good about the study is if your kid is ten years old right now, you don’t have to feel like his difficulty reading is because you didn’t breastfeed, if indeed this study is valid. He is already past the point of the most beneficial time for immunity from breastmilk and he made it through. Maybe some moms will still have guild when they can’t breastfeed their infant, but they can let go of it once he is into toddlerdom, especially by primary school.

hominid's avatar

@JLeslie – Fine. I’ll take your word for it that we agree on some level. Just keep in mind that in no other area of health do we pretend that adults are incapable of handling the benefits and disadvantages of activities. In a country where knowledge of the benefits of breastfeeding (to mother and baby) are generally unknown or misunderstood, and where feeding you child in public can get you on the front page of a newspaper, and where huge multinational corporations market and push formula – yes, it is inappropriate to bring in shielding the public from this information because Linda didn’t breastfeed and is “feeling guilty”. My grandfather smoked most of his life. Should we have kept information from him later in life about the effects of smoking on him and his family from second hand smoke so he wouldn’t feel “guilty”? (Hint: don’t pretend that I’m saying that not breastfeeding is the same as smoking. Don’t insult me or yourself. Just a warning.)

So, let’s follow this new meta-analysis sociological study thing. Let’s see the medical response. But keep in mind that the current science states that human milk is significantly better in many ways to formula. Even Dr. Colen states this (immunity and nutrition). And we can’t forget that breastfeeding reduces heart disease and cancer chances in women. If we’re going to feel “guilty” – it’s using “guilt” to hide this life-saving information from current or soon-to-be moms with the intention of preventing “guilt” in older moms.

SavoirFaire's avatar

I can’t say that I know a whole lot about the issue, but it would seem to contradict some of the results of the study described here regarding the ways in which mother’s milk is customized for a particular infant’s needs.

zenvelo's avatar

It’s fine that the analysis (not a study, just parsing data) shows a possible pro breast feeding bias, and that the author was trying to remove stigma against mothers who don’t beast feed.

Yet, there is evidence from intense studies that show medical health benefits from breast feeding if one can do that. So, while a “formula” mom should not be criticized, breast feeding is still preferable.

JLeslie's avatar

@hominid Stating things like heart disease and cancer reduction I again question due to socio-economics.

I am not suggesting keeping information from anyone, I don’t know where you get that from? If you smoked for twenty years you increased your chances of disease, if someone else was inhaling your smoke all those years they too have higher risk. That’s a fact, we have tons of science to prove it, no one argues it, and no one suggests not telling people that I know of. Old studies said smokers also tend to be more productive than non-smokers, that might have changed now, I don’t know. My point is, it doesn’t matter that smokers are more productive, that had to do with personality type probably more than the smoke itself. It certainly was not reason enough to smoke and risk cancer and heart disease. Those diseases really do have direct causation that has been demonstrated through science that is accepted by everyone who counts pretty much.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

I’m happy that the good doctor addressed the socioeconomic problems associated with motherhood in the US and I certainly agree that a good, high-end formula can be a more nutritious alternative to the milk produced by a malnourished new mother. But that is what it is—a socioeconomic problem, not an argument to convince healthy mothers to offer their babies formula over breastfeeding.

I’m a huge believer in each mother’s individual colostrum as it has been shown in many, much larger studies that colostrum is invaluable to enhance the newborn’s immuno-suppressive abilities and it can’t be replicated in a lab. I also don’t believe we know all the benefits of colostrum. And we certainly don’t know all the psychological benefits to both the mother and the infant of breastfeeders. There has been a lot of evidence in the past decade or so concerning the production of Oxytocin during breastfeeding, which greatly affects the well-being of both mother and infant, especially as a natural combatant against post-partum depression—and continues to be produced as long as the mother nurses. But we still don’t know the full effects of Oxytocin or other chemistry involved. Therefore, I take a conservative approach and feel that in the case of healthy mothers, the best is breastfeeding. On the other hand, people are free to do as they wish, regardless of what I think.

Somebody mentioned earlier in this thread that there might be a hidden agenda in this study. Well, anybody with enough money can have a study designed and conducted, including corporations that manufacture formula looking for a larger market. They can also hide behind multi-layered veil of institutes whose names sound scientific, yet are no more than a corner in a strip store or a PO Box and a well designed website.

That is why before you throw the baby out with the bathwater you should identify the sponsor of the study, read the study protocol (be suspicious if this is unavailable for any reason) and decide for yourself if the study has a design bias—a mere abstract will not do. Identify any problems during the conduction of the study with ethics committees, and identify the peers on the Internal (peer) Review Board and who they work for. And finally: get a list of which scientific journals this study’s results have been publishe and if they are scientific journals at all. If the study can’t pass muster, then it’s not really a study at all, but an advertising gimmick fed to journalists who are unqualified to write on the subject of studies or are hacks just pumping out crap to pay the rent.

The much abused words “study,” and “trial,” actually once meant something. They really aren’t magical verbal conjurations that through some amazing other-worldly process bring upon the materialization of a truth or fact—although you would think so by the way our gullible, poorly educated masses accept anything labeled a “study” as a scientific endeavor based solely on the use of the word. Companies rely on this. In the hands of corporations with an agenda—abetted by the popular press—“studies” are often no more than a sleight of hand. Even if it means knowingly not providing the very best to our children for the sake of increased sales.

janbb's avatar

As an aside, I was once told by a male speech therapist that my younger son’s speech delay could be due to his having been breastfed! He ashed if I had breastfed and when I said yes, he said, “I thought so! Lazy lips!” Luckily, even as a young mother, I realized that for the bullshit it was. As if kids never learned to speak before there was formula!

So guilt can be attempted to be induced both ways.

Cupcake's avatar

I did a quick search and I don’t see the scientific paper this article was based on. So I can’t reach any intelligent conclusions.

She claims that there have not been the proper adjustments in the data to account for SES. I am mulling over what confounders there would be when a family changes their infant feeding type between children. I am sure there are some and I doubt they were accounted for.

I am unimpressed.

That aside, there should be no room for mother shaming. There is nothing in the collection of literature about infant care/feeding that indicates that mothers should be shamed for not breastfeeding. That is a judgmental, cultural practice. I will firmly state that it goes in both directions. I come from an extended family where breastfeeding, babywearing, cloth diapering and co-sleeping (all of which I do to some extent) are all viewed as derogatory terms (gross, lazy, dirty, enabling, etc.). I frequently skip family events until my kids are fully weaned.

Mother blaming does not begin and end with formula/breast feeding. It is a common foundation of psychotherapy. We see it on fluther as a possible cause in every question that asks about poor human outcomes. It is everywhere. Bad enough that mothers/parents are so attached to good outcomes for their kids that they rake themselves through the coals of their every fault. But shame on anyone outside of my family unit who blames me for anything/everything about my children.

Cruiser's avatar

@SavoirFaire I saw the same article the other day and after reading the link @JLeslie provided I am now very confused…

@JLeslie‘s article says… “Dr Colen also claims that children who are breastfed are more likely to develop asthma than those who are bottle-fed.”

Your article says “Breast-fed infants are healthier, suffering fewer illnesses such as diarrhea, earaches or pneumonia during the first year of life and less likely to develop asthma or obesity later on.”

creative1's avatar

I think that babies who are formula fed as oppsed to breast feeding health wise I think a breast fed baby gives them more of the mothers antibodies and can aid if you have a child who has a compromised immune system. However over the long term when looking at older children I don’t think it makes a child smarter or heathier. Breast feeding though gives a mother and baby a better bonding experience where bottle feeding can be done by others and with not as much direct body contact.

JLeslie's avatar

I didn’t have an agenda with the question, I just found the information interesting. Many of you might remember that As a young girl I grew up in an environment where all the mom’s I knew breastfed except for one. I don’t know why she didn’t. My mom had breastfed me. All my closest friends breastfed their babies, it seems like the most natural thing in the world to me. I didn’t even know it was a thing that people argued about until several years ago. I’m 46 for a frame of reference.

I was just interested in what people thought.

I think it is good they do this sort of research.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Cruiser Like I said, I don’t know much about it. But the article I linked is making reference to older studies when it mentions asthma—exactly those studies that @JLeslie‘s article says the formula analysis overturns. As such, the two articles could still be consistent with one another. But, as has been mentioned above, it is worth noting that the article I linked to is about an actual study, whereas @JLeslie‘s article is about a meta-analysis of previous studies. We would need further work to better understand what link, if any, exists between asthma and how we feed infants.

Cruiser's avatar

@SavoirFaire I agree and upon closer look it seem that the Dr and study of @JLeslie‘s article is taking a different perspective on breast feeding and it seems from a social perspective in that she is telling working mom’s that is OK and that science has determined that feeding your baby formula yield very little measurable differences over breast milk. Working lower class mom’s referenced many times in the article so it seems this Dr. is simply trying to overcome the recent trend of the virtues of breast milk and the stigma if you don’t breast feed your child it won’t get all these natural benefits for your child and you are then being less of a mom by denying your child these benefits if you breast feed. This empowers a low income mom to break free of that breast feed tether and enjoy the convenience of bottle formula feeding her child and being able to go out and work. Most working moms then do not have the time or energy to pump breast milk either.

My wife breast fed my first born all the way through teething and only went 3 weeks with the first born because she was not producing enough milk for him. Both boys are tall, healthy and fit teenagers. Neither has asthma either.

hearkat's avatar

Is there a link to the actual research paper, and not some media article? I’m not familiar with the Daily Mail or it’s reputation regarding journalistic integrity, but that piece left me with a bad taste in my mouth (baby formula pun somewhat intended).

Regarding @janbb‘s speech therapist’s comment, I was in my Bachelor’s program for Speech and Hearing Sciences in the late ‘80s, and had my son in the early ‘90s – so I don’t think it was too many years after this person said that to you. Back then they said that the breast-fed baby had to work their oral musculature harder than bottle-fed babies. That was why the shapes and textures of the nipples and pacifiers were being modified at the time (I haven’t kept up with the research in this area, so I am unsure whether there have been any new findings).

My son still had chronic ear infections, despite being breast-fed well past his first year. In his case, it was a biological predisposition from his father’s side of the family – there are always exceptions. I don’t recall hearing claims that asthma is reduced when kids are breast-fed… that seems like a stretch to correlate the two. Again, I haven’t kept up with the research since my son weaned.

hominid's avatar

@hearkat: ” I don’t recall hearing claims that asthma is reduced when kids are breast-fed… that seems like a stretch to correlate the two. Again, I haven’t kept up with the research since my son weaned.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics mentions reduction in asthma rates in their position on breastfeeding. This is based on a number of studies. Here are a couple 1, 2.

hearkat's avatar

Here’s the OSU press release: http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/sibbreast.htm
It seems that the actual research paper is not available for free public viewing… still searching.

Thanks, @hominid – checking those out now.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

@hearkat The Daily Mail is a tabloid that hits the streets of London in the afternoon with content much like the New York Post, but not nearly as bad as the National Inquirer. If you want serious, reliable reporting you look to the morning papers: the London Times if you enjoy conservative editorial content, or the Guardian if you are of the liberal bent.

hearkat's avatar

The second study you link, @hominid, says (emphasis mine):
After adjustment for age, gender, parental smoking status, and parental history of asthma, a significantly higher prevalence of asthma was noted among children who had been breastfed (adjusted odds ratio = 1.198; 95% confidence interval: 1.054, 1.363; p for trend < 0.01). The results indicated that breastfeeding in infancy might be related to the higher prevalence of asthma during preadolescence.

—So the Japanese study contradicts the first study from Australia (note that the Japanese study included about ten times as many subjects as the Australian study), unless I’m missing something without my glasses on.

I have always been an advocate for breast feeding, and my son was nearly 3 before he fully weaned. But based on my knowledge and experience, I still think it’s a stretch to link breast feeding to asthma and allergies. I suppose time will tell. One thing they can’t control for is the mother’s diet, as what the nursing mom eats does change the breast milk composition.

@Espiritus_Corvus: Thanks. My instinct was apparently correct. I had to wade through several web search pages of similarly sensationalized articles to find the release from the university.

This study was of less than 700 families, so that diminishes its validity; and again it should be noted that it was a sociological and not medical study.

hominid's avatar

^ Just quickly linked to a couple of quick studies that came up when I googled. I’d be interested to see when/if the medical community decides that the existing evidence is inconclusive, and they remove this from their policy statements.

Dutchess_III's avatar

You know, as I said, looking back, I breast fed exclusively. I’m also thinking my middle child was lactose intolerant and probably would have done much better with a special formula. But we didn’t know anything about that stuff then.

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