While experts have been advising women that “breast is best” when it comes to feeding their newborn, a new study suggests that the benefits of breast-feeding vs. bottle-feeding may be overstated. Based on a series out outcomes, researchers believe that it is not so much the breast-feeding that matters, as the education of the parents and their economic status.
The new study, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, looked at three groups of children, ages four to 14. The first group of 8,237 children were from the 1979 National Longitudinal Study of Youth (NLSY.) The second group of 7,319 siblings were from a NLSY survey in 1986 and the last group of 1,773 sibling pairs, in which one was breastfed and the other was bottle-fed, were based on a NLSY survey from 2010.
The children were compared on 11 different statuses, including their BMI, rate of obesity, asthma, hyperactivity, attachment, behavior, vocabulary and reading skills, math ability, scholastic competence and overall intelligence. What they found was somewhat surprising.
When considering all families, it seems that breast-feeding babies is the best policy. However, the last group did not show any significant difference between the breast-fed and bottle-fed children. The major difference was actually a higher prevalence of asthma in breast-fed children. They did not find any long-term negative effects from bottle-feeding.
The study took the parent’s education, income and ethnicity into account. They found that it may not be breast-feeding that actually gives kids the upper hand, but a better upbringing due to higher income, more resources and a better education.
Cynthia Colen led the study. She is an assistant professor of sociology at Ohio state University. The takeaway, according to her, is to focus on the long-term effects on the child, rather than the immediate benefits that breast-feeding provides.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) aims to increase breast-feeding in the U.S. The study is not likely to change the current recommendation that breast-feeding is best for the baby and mom. Breast milk is said to provide optimal nutrition for infants, which helps them gain weight.
While breast-feeding may be ideal for bonding, growth and strengthening the baby’s immune system, using formula does not have negative long-term effects. Infants bond with parents, regardless of feeding style. Formulas are made much closer to breast milk today and the baby’s immune system is better developed by two months, even without breast-feeding. Based on the results of this study, even kids raised in the same house with different feeding practices are equally as healthy during their childhood years. Bottle-fed babies are no less healthy than those who were breast-fed.
Colen said that rather than “placing blame” on mothers who bottle-feed, people need to focus on the effects that go beyond the first year of life. There are some factors that interfere with a woman’s ability to breast-feed and they should not be judged because of it. The study sheds light on the long-term effects of bottle-feeding, which are not harmful to the child. The battle continues over breast-feeding vs. bottle-feeding, however, as further studies are needed to prove that the two methods are acceptable and safe, in terms of long-term outcomes.
By Tracy Rose