Why This Adoptive Mom Is Thrilled About the Latest Breastfeeding Study

Photo Credit: Joe Shlabotnik/Flickr
Photo Credit: Joe Shlabotnik/Flickr

For the past 17 months, I’ve been up to my elbows in baby formula — 24 to 32 scoops of powder a day to be exact. And I don’t expect my kids to be any less for it in the long run. As an adoptive mom, breastfeeding versus bottle feeding was one less mommy war I had to deal with — or so I thought.

I am shocked by the amount of judgment and disapproving glares I receive while formula-feeding my daughters in public. You’d think I was putting a stick of dynamite in their mouths. Just a few months ago, I was happily strolling through a flea market and stopped to mix formula for one of my fussing babies. A woman watched and then condescendingly informed me, “There’s a BREASTfeeding area a few rows over for BREASTfeeding.” I snapped back “Great! Are they giving out free samples?” My friend saw the fire in my eyes and dragged me away.

Based on a new study from Ohio State University that looked at the differences between 8,237 children, 7,319 siblings and 1,773 sibling pairs in which one child was bottle fed and at least one other was breastfed, the results made clear that breastfeeding doesn’t make a difference in regards to the usually toted factors:

1. Body mass index (BMI)

2. Obesity

3. Hyperactivity

4. Parental attachment (secure emotional relationships between parents and child)

5. Behavior compliance

6. Achievement in vocabulary

7. Reading recognition

8. Math ability

9. Intelligence

10. Scholastic competence

(For the 11th factor, asthma, breastfeeding was actually associated with a higher incidence than bottle-feeding.)

These findings support a similar 2005 sibling breastfeeding study (with almost double the sample size of sibling pairs), which was published in the journal Health Services Research. Typically, breastfeeding studies measure across instead of within families, which doesn’t control for all of the other confounding variables such as family income, parent education level and race/ethnicity — all of which are known to impact the above outcomes.

The significance of this research can’t be overstated and it’s making waves for good, scientific reasons. The Ohio State University study’s principal investigator, Dr. Cynthia Colon, stated “If breastfeeding doesn’t have the impact that we think it will have on long-term childhood outcomes, then even though it is very important in the short term we really need to focus on other things,” she said. “We need to look at school quality, adequate housing and the type of employment parents have when their kids are growing up.”

The truth is, if I had given birth to either of my daughters, I would have breastfed had my body cooperated. Not because I think it would be that beneficial to the baby (I exist primarily on Diet Coke, bananas and Snickers Bars) but because, like most people, I like to feel superior. For better or worse, breastfeeding is at the top of our society’s measuring stick of  motherhood excellence. Also, I like to feel as if there’s something I can do this very minute, every minute, that will improve my children’s chances in life.

Maybe I would have found breastfeeding enchanting, maybe I wouldn’t have. It’s such a personal choice. I hope that this new sibling study helps to swing the pendulum of debate closer to the middle so that all moms feel supported.

Also from Rebecca this month:

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