Is breast best?

Is it oversharing to tell you I wasn’t breastfed as an infant? Tough. I don’t feel that being bottlefed formula milk did me any harm. Breastfeeding is natural but it’s not always possible for new mothers and the push from the healthcare workers for breast is best waxes and wanes as any social fashion.

There is a lot of guilt poured on mothers who (a) choose to breast feed their infant (b) choose not to breast feed their infant (c) cannot breast feed their infant. Take your pick, there’s guilt from every angle. If it’s physiologically possible it should be every mother’s personal choice, but none should be made to feel guilty for the choice they make, especially not on health grounds fo their child.

Research published earlier this year looked at various indicators of health over a 25 year period between siblings breast fed and not breast fed. The bottom line is that “much of the beneficial long-term effects typically attributed to breastfeeding, per se, may primarily be due to selection pressures into infant feeding practices along key demographic characteristics such as race and socioeconomic status.”

The researchers report that, “A mother’s decision to breastfeed her child as well as how long she is able to do so is based on a complex web of personal, familial, and social factors.” Women often have to cut their working hours to carry on breastfeeding for some time after the baby’s birth. “This trade off, however, may be especially untenable for poor or minority women who already face reduced access to steady, full-time employment, have few or no benefits, and lower than average salaries often in conjunction with the added pressures of single parenthood,” they say.

Breast or bottle is a small component in a bigger picture of the growing child’s short-term and long-term health. Like all environmental factors the impact is strongly affected by all the other factors and it is very unlikely that any single factor unless obviously detrimental (such as not being vaccinated and succumbing to measles, mumps, rubella or whatever or being run over by a bus) will add up to a significant effect on long-term health.

Is breast truly best? Estimating the effects of breastfeeding on long-term child health and wellbeing in the United States using sibling comparisons.