A new study has provided pro-bottle-feeding advocates with all new ammo in the ongoing debate over the benefits of breastfeeding.
Ohio State University released research this week that revealed that the long-term health and well-being benefits of breastfeeding might have been hugely overstated.
Published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, the study analyzed ongoing data from three separate sample groups–8,237 children, 7,319 siblings and 1,773 sibling pairs where at least one child was breastfed and at least one child was not. Hyperactivity, math skills, BMI, reading recognition, vocabulary word identification, scholastic competence, parental attachment and obesity were some of the 11 outcomes measured.
Aside from asthma, which was associated more with breast-feeding than with bottle-feeding, the research showed no significant statistical disparities.
However, instead of siding with either bottle or breastfeeding advocates, the researchers argued that race and socioeconomic circumstances played a much larger role on the long-term health and well-being outcomes in children.
Critiquing the accuracy of the study’s testing, Mary Renfrew, a professor of mother and infant health at the University of Dundee, told New Scientist that the study was designed “too crudely” to observe any effects, arguing that babies fed with a mixture of formula and breast milk would still be consider breastfed.
Highly endorsed by pediatric groups, most researchers and government health agencies, breastfeeding is widely considered to be good for the development of the baby, and health protective for mothers.
Additionally, the CDC also encourages the practice, stating that its Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity (DNPAO) is “committed to increasing breastfeeding rates throughout the United States and to promoting and supporting optimal breastfeeding practices toward the ultimate goal of improving the public’s health.”
A CDC report shows that about 59 percent of black mothers breastfed in 2008, compared to 80 percent of Hispanic mothers and about 75 percent of white mothers. For 2008 rates of breastfeeding at a baby’s first birthday, the number was reportedly about 23 percent overall but only 12.5 percent for black mothers.
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Some experts claim that this disparity stems from cultural stigmas and myths passed on through Black communities, while others point to institutional failings, like budget cuts that have forced some hospitals that care for low-income families to shut down first-time mother training programs.
In recent years, a number of state initiatives and nationwide promotional efforts have been launched to increase the low rates of breastfeeding among African American women.
Cynthia Colen, assistant professor of sociology at OSU and lead author of the new sibling study, said in a press release that previous studies suffer from selection bias because they either do not or cannot statistically control for factors such as race, age, family income amd mother’s employment.
“I’m not saying breast-feeding is not beneficial, especially for boosting nutrition and immunity in newborns,” Colen said.
“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.”