Breastfeeding Benefits Have Been Exaggerated

Formula-feeding has been vilified in recent years, with new moms being told that if they don't breastfeed, they could be putting their child at risk for a slew of health, behavioral and developmental problems. But the findings of a new study suggest that's total bullshit. Breast might actually not be best.

The study, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, analyzed data from three separate groups—"8,237 children, 7,319 siblings and 1,773 sibling pairs where at least one child was breast-fed and at least one child was not"—and measured 11 different issues that were previously thought to be impacted by breast vs. bottle feeding (like obesity, hyperactivity, parental attachment, reading comprehension, etc.).

When they looked at data across all families, breast-feeding had better outcomes than bottle-feeding in factors like BMI, hyperactivity, math skills, reading recognition, vocabulary word identification, digit recollection, scholastic competence and obesity.

However, when the researchers looked just at the siblings who were fed differently, the benefits were not statistically significant. The exception was that breast-fed children were at higher risk for asthma, though it was unclear if those reports were self-generated or actual diagnoses.

It's been well-documented that women who breastfeed tend to be wealthier and more educated than mothers who don't (or can't). By looking within families, instead of across them, the study was able to highlight the nurture vs. nature aspect that often gets ignored in the breastfeeding debate.

But it's unlikely that the research will have any impact on how breastfeeding is being pushed. The CDC has said it's "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."