Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Breastfeeding v. Formula Debate, Part 2

I've blogged on this topic before. I shouldn't be calling it a "debate" because my whole point is that I don't think it should be one at all. Breastfeeding is great for the baby, I completely agree, I just don't think its EVERYTHING for the baby. I received 19 comments on that post (that's a Lot for me). Most of them were supportive or simply gave their reasons why they did what they did. Some wanted to know more about why I had such a gut reaction against breastfeeding, I suppose to make sure my reasons could stack up against all the evidence of breastfeeding's positive effects. Others reported on how it helped you lose weight faster (definitely a benefit, but that can't be the reason other people seem to think you're committing some form of child abuse by feeding your baby formula). And finally, a few commented on the link between breastfeeding and childhood obesity.

Personally I didn't believe that breastfeeding had any effect on obesity. Much like "links" between breastfeeding and intelligence, I think it's almost impossible to conduct a study that accounts for all the environmental and social variables involved. Babies don't learn satiety through breastfeeding (and how would that be different from a bottle? there's a milk supply in front of them and they have to decide when they've had enough), they're born knowing when they are hungry or full. Toddlers and children just learn how to eat past the point of fullness and how delicious high-calorie, less-filling foods can be.

this article appeared on cnn.com. The Harvard study involved nearly 14,500 women who were breast-fed as infants and more than 21,000 who were not and found no link between adult obesity and breastfeeding. It is the largest study to date on the relationship between the two. A few quotes that stood out to me:
  • "I'm the first to say breast-feeding is good. But I don't think it's the solution to reducing childhood or adult obesity," said the study's lead author, Karin Michels of Harvard Medical School.
  • "It would be remarkable to find a behavior that you engage in for one year of life and see detectable effects from it 40 years later," said Grummer-Strawn, chief of the CDC's maternal and child nutrition branch.
  • Good or bad eating and exercise habits, developed later in life, may sustain or erase initial weight-related benefits from breast-feeding, he and other experts said. Of course, that doesn't take away the other benefits of breast-feeding, such as building a child's immunity to disease.

So there could be all kinds of things wrong with this study, it was just nice to see an article stating that perhaps how you raise your baby is more important than the method with which you initially deliver milk to him or her and acknowledging that your chosen milk delivery system is unlikely to have "detectable effects" 40 years later. Breastfeeding has some immediate benefits such as helping to build a baby's immune system (as the article mentions), but claiming that it affects a baby forever irritates me. If you already want to breastfeed that's fantastic, you probably don't need more articles telling you how great it is (and what a better mother you are for doing it). If you don't want to, or are physically unable to, such grandiose claims only make you feel defensive, guilty, or like a failure.

Side note: So far the most interesting thing about being pregnant, besides watching my body change with frightening speed, has been how many people (strangers!) have opinions about my personal choices. I've planned innumerable blog articles in my head complaining about this phenomenon but they never end up getting written. I think this is partly because it's hard to complain about people challenging my decisions without challenging other people's decisions myself. For example, it really pisses me off when people insinuate getting an epidural is "wimping out". I have absolutely no interest in a natural child birth- there is safe pain medicine available and I want it. However, I don't think people who choose to have a natural birth are "crazy" and I think its great they're sticking to something they believe in. Its hard to write a post yelling at people who think I should have a natural birth without insulting those who choose to go that route. Basically I just wish people (and by people, I pretty much mean women) would leave other pregnant women alone. Encouragement, stories, general open-minded opinions are all welcome, but questions where the asker has a definite "right" answer in mind are not.

P.S. (oh yes lucky reader, you get a side note and a P.S.) I forgot to mention that I got a few emails after I wrote the original breastfeeding post from women who formula fed. I thought it was interesting that they were the only ones who didn't feel comfortable posting where everyone could see. Anyway, one of them wrote about how she had to send her husband to buy the formula after a cashier at Target gave her a hard time about not giving her baby "the best". Argh!


  1. The bad news? Other people always know how you should be raising your children. They don't restrain themselves to the pregnant/baby stage.

    The good news: it's your life. Hurrah!

  2. You and I must be encountering the same rabid women this week!

    I was the only one of the four kids in the family who was NOT breastfed...and I'm the only one to have completed college and grad school. Given my toxic relationship with my mother, there may be a link!

  3. What's with people's judgemental bullsh*t? They need to get over themselves.

    I think a lot of women want to do everything that is in the best interest of the baby even if slightly so or it's an old wive's tale. That's fine. But judging is NOT cool.