A new study from Ohio State University suggests many long-term benefits previously attributed to breastfeeding might actually be attributed to other causes. The American Academy of Pediatrics along with the World Health Organization recommends somewhere around six months of exclusive breastfeeding for all infants. Researchers from Ohio claim the better health seen in breastfed infants might actually be from simply being the offspring of a mother who, overall, has a healthier lifestyle. Not many people question breastfeeding guidelines, but some researchers are investigating to what degree it is really helpful to children.
The study compared 1,773 sibling pairs between the ages of 4 to 14 years old. The children included in this study were required to be breastfed as a baby, while their sibling was not. 11 different measures of health and intelligence were used to determine the influences hypothesized in the study. Behavioral and health outcomes in sibling pairs included reading comprehension, body mass index, asthma, obesity, hyperactivity, math ability, and memory-related intelligence. The study found no significant differences between breastfed and bottle-fed siblings. The study used a 25-year panel of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.
Results from standard multiple regression models showed that children within the study fared better when they were breastfed on 10 of the 11 outcomes studied, but when the researchers incorporated “within-family fixed effects,” the indicators dramatically decreased and failed to maintain statistical significance.
These children were considered by the researchers as “discordant” siblings. Variables that were cited to have been controlled for included race, socioeconomic status, education, and other differences. The researchers claim earlier studies on breastfeeding failed to control for these factors, as their research shows breastfeeding is not actually that helpful for growth and development.
The World Health Organization and other proponents of breastfeeding claim breast milk has properties that cannot be purchased in the store. Disease-fighting cells called antibodies are alleged to be one of these properties. For this reason, it is reported that breast milk can protect infants from germs, illness, and even Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Other conditions breastfeeding can prevent include ear infections, stomach viruses, asthma, leukemia, respiratory infections, atopic dermatis, obesity, diabetes, and necrotizing enterocolitis, which is an infant gastrointestinal disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a division called Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity (DNPAO) that is committed to increasing breastfeeding rates in the United States and promoting and supporting optimal practices. The CDC uses an active approach to address the role of nutrition and activity for improving public health, hoping it will impact families and infant outcomes across the nation.
For mothers, breastfeeding can lower the risk of postpartum depression, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer. Breast milk is also believed to be easier for babies to digest than cow milk. The WHO strongly believes breastfeeding should begin within one hour from birth, and it should be “on demand” as often as the child wants it, day and night. Breast milk prevents two of the primary causes of child mortality: diarrhea and pneumonia. Many organizations like the CDC, WHO, American Dietetic Association, American College of Nurse-Midwives, and American Public Health Association strongly believe breastfeeding really is helpful.
By Lindsey Alexander