Monday 18 December 2017

Colette Fitzpatrick: Not breastfeeding is OK, but rows about it distract from the real childcare issues

Geoff Der, at the University of Glasgow, said
Geoff Der, at the University of Glasgow, said "a woman who isn't able to breastfeed shouldn't be feeling guilty".

They've been quiet for some time, the breast feeding advocates. Not any more though. A row has erupted after midwife Tracey Donegan said that comparing formula with breast milk was like comparing "eating at McDonalds for every meal or choosing freshly prepared balanced meals".

Donegan made the comments after a new study linked higher earnings as an adult with breastfeeding.

Here we go again. The catch cry of lactivists has been: 'the research shows breast is best.' But recent research indicates previous studies may have suffered from selection bias.


In other words, mothers who breast-feed their kids are disproportionately advantaged to start with - they tend to be wealthier, healthier and better educated.

A study, published last year in the Journal Social Science & Medicine by Cynthia Colen, found that the benefits of breastfeeding may have been drastically overstated.

Geoff Der, at the University of Glasgow said the findings were robust and "a woman who isn't able to breast-feed shouldn't be feeling guilty".

Similarly neuroscientists, writing for Bloomberg in 2012, found that breastfeeding won't make your children smarter. They said: "Although it is true that children who were breast-fed as babies have higher intelligence than bottle-fed children, the reason for the correlation is in the mother's brain, not her breast."

In her book 'Is Breast Best?: Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood', Joan B Wolf explains that the conviction that breastfeeding provides babies with health benefits and that formula feeding is a risky substitute is unsubstantiated.

She argues discussions of breastfeeding say more about infatuation with personal responsibility and perfect mothering than they do about the concrete benefits of the breast.

Former Time magazine writer Amy Sullivan states that: "People need to believe that breastfeeding is better because it's harder...that whatever requires the most sacrifice...must be best for our children".


Dr Amy Tuteur cites a 2008 study in the journal Paediatrics, in which the authors concluded there was "no evidence of risks or benefits of prolonged and exclusive breast-feeding for child behaviour".

A study by researchers at the University of California published in 2013, found feeding underweight newborns formula milk alongside breast milk can help mothers to breastfeed for significantly longer.

All of which leads to one conclusion - not breastfeeding is not evil.

More importantly this milk war is taking attention away from crucial parenting issues such as childcare and tax breaks for this, and issue of maternity and paternity leave.

We need to stop moralising breastfeeding. It is not the holy grail of mothering. And formula is not the equivalent of a Big Mac.

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