Sibling Study Finds No Long-Term Breastfeeding Benefits For Kids

(5-month old baby, Wikimedia Commons)

(5-month old baby, Wikimedia Commons)

When Ohio State sociologist Cynthia Colen embarked on the biggest study yet of the long-term effects of breastfeeding, she expected it to yield still more evidence of “breast is best.”

Her research focuses on the health gaps between rich and poor, and she anticipated findings that would underscore the high price paid by poor and working-class mothers, whose jobs often stand in the way of breastfeeding.

But the data did not go there.

Previous research had reported a variety of long-term breastfeeding benefits in children, ranging from slightly higher IQs to lower risks of Attention Deficit Disorder. But those studies had mainly compared children across different families.

Dr. Colen’s study, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, looked at thousands of siblings within families, comparing those who were bottle-fed to those who were breastfed.

And all the previously reported long-term benefits evaporated.

“I was shocked,” she said. “I thought, ‘Of course there’s going to be some confounding. We know that children who are breastfed are much more likely to come from middle-income families; to have parents with higher levels of education; they’re more likely to be white; more likely to live in middle-class or safe neighborhoods — all these things that we know are going to impact these long-term child outcomes.’ But I didn’t expect such a dramatic reduction.”

So, in this study spanning 25 years of data on more than 8,000 children ages 4 to 14, the long-term benefits of breastfeeding dwindled down to virtually nothing?

“Nothing. Exactly.”

Yikes. It takes courage to question breastfeeding benefits these days. So let’s be clear: Dr. Colen is by no means against breastfeeding. On the contrary. And the evidence for the short-term benefits of breastfeeding is overwhelmingly clear, from improved immunity for the baby to healthier weight for both baby and mother. But, she says, “We need to just get a more balanced conversation going.”

“I’m not saying that women shouldn’t breastfeed and I’m not saying that breastfeeding is not beneficial,” she said. But “I think we have to be honest and try to understand more about what breastfeeding can and cannot do for women and their children, and to start to expand the conversation to these larger social and economic factors that we need to address.”

Those social and economic factors include the need for better maternity leaves and more affordable daycare — as well as higher school quality, safer neighborhoods, more family-friendly jobs. Dr. Colen argues for taking a more careful look at what happens in a child’s life beyond infancy, and for understanding that breastfeeding may be difficult to the point of impossibility for some groups of women. (Interesting paper: Is Breastfeeding Truly Cost-Free?)

“Rather than placing the blame at their feet, let’s be more realistic about what breast-feeding does and doesn’t do,” she says in a press release.

So what are the findings, exactly?

Using nationally representative survey data from 1986 through 2010, Dr. Colen and co-author David Ramey analyzed 11 key indicators in children from ages 4 to 14. From academic scores to behavior to obesity, they found no advantages for breastfed over bottle-fed siblings. The sample included 1,773 siblings in which at least one was breastfed and at least one was not.

How could this be? Haven’t we been hearing for years that breastfeeding makes children smarter, healthier, all-around better?

Yes, but it would seem that many of those studies may have been skewed by what Prof. Colen’s field — sociology — calls “residual confounders.” That is to say: The researchers tried to factor in socio-economic elements like income and race, but they must not have done enough to offset them.

The more educated and better off a woman is, the likelier she is to breastfeed. Being better off is also linked to myriad desirable outcomes, from healthier weight to better test scores. The previous studies tried to correct for that overlap. No single study is the final word on a complex topic like this, but if this study is right, the previous studies failed to clean out their “residual confounders.”

So how do we know that all the studies on shorter-term benefits of breastfeeding didn’t make that same mistake?

The results of those studies look more convincing, Dr. Colen said. “The effect sizes are larger, and there’s more of a known biological pathway. We know moms are able to pass immunity through breast milk to babies, and that in the very short term, it makes sense biologically that this boosted immunity can protect their intestines or their lungs from infections. But this is likely to wear off fairly quickly during that first year.”

And mightn’t this sibling study be confounded somehow as well? Dr. Colen says there have been two previous studies that looked at siblings and breastfeeding benefits.

“The other two studies did show remarkable reductions [in long-term benefits] when they did their sibling comparisons,” she said. “So in that way, our studies were similar. I think our study went a little bit further in showing how much the effect of breastfeeding was reduced when you went from between-family comparisons to an in-family comparison.”

Personal note: I’m torn. I like the prospect that this study will give some solace to women who cannot breastfeed, or who give up breastfeeding earlier than the recommended one-year mark. (And it helps explain why the generation born when bottle-feeding was most promoted, in the 1950s and 1960s, is not noticeably disadvantaged.)

But I also hate to potentially undermine breastfeeding in a society where, in the big picture, it still needs more support. I offered the final word to Dr. Joan Meek, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ section on breastfeeding.

She raised the possibility that perhaps many of the mothers in the study who breastfed did not do it for long enough to reap full benefits. The women who breastfed in the study did so for an average of 23 weeks.

“When you look at what the American Academy of Pediatrics as well as the CDC and multiple other organizations say in terms of optimal breastfeeding, it’s about six months of exclusive breastfeeding and then a minimum of one to two years total duration,” she said. “And when you look at the long-term benefits, you really have to look at that exclusivity and that total duration of breastfeeding to see those differences.”

From reducing risks of diabetes to childhood cancer, she said, “there are compelling data that exclusive breastfeeding and total duration of breastfeeding are the keys, not just any breastfeeding.”

Ultimately, Dr. Meek said, “The preponderance of evidence, using well-controlled studies, would demonstrate that there are long-term benefits to breastfeeding, particularly when we look at exclusive breastfeeding for about six months, and longer duration of breastfeeding.” And, there are maternal benefits as well: lower risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, obesity, diabetes, possibly — the evidence is still preliminary — even of arthritis.

But in many cases, “there’s dose dependency,” she said. “The longer the breastfeeding, the longer the exclusive breastfeeding, the less risk you will experience.”

Further reading: The Case Against Breastfeeding, by Hanna Rosin in The Atlantic

Postscript in response to social media queries: No, Dr. Colen’s study was not funded by formula makers. According to the Ohio State press release: “This work is supported by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development awarded to the Ohio State University Institute for Population Research.”

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  • angieazcaban

    It would seem this study suggests that while breastfeeding is still ideal, that if you are unable to for whatever reason, physical, financial (having to work), etc, that your (second, third, fourth, etc) child will likely turn out alright.

  • jessicalisak

    I’d like to read the entire study, but don’t want to pay $36 for it…? I’m wondering two things: (1) when they say breastfeeding, do they mean breastmilk in a bottle, too? I think that babies who are fed breastmilk through bottles is an important factor in this. (2) Which children were bottle fed? The earlier children or later ones? This could also account for less benefits in the later children — if a mother has breastfed one child and has gained confidence in her ability to do this, this could affect how she deals with the later children, whom she feeds formula. Just curious about these two factors in the study.

  • Lawrence

    ..and this “study” was brought to you, no doubt by the Baby Food Industry, like so many other “research” studies that promote big corp.

    Commonsense people. Do not be fooled and bring a baby into this world with disadvantages. It’s so easy to fall for this trap, as most moms are too “busy” and welcome trash research like this as fact.

  • 1humanwoman

    The limitations of this study are great enough that I think they overstate their case, despite good intentions. I have a full analysis here:

  • Ann Marie

    Breastfed my daughter for 24 months! Straight “A” student! Awesome person inside and out! Beautiful young lady! Healthy!! I believe MORE women should put their big girl panties on and breastfeed their children…shoot if you are too worried about your boobs changing shape then at lease pump your breastmilk and let your child have nutritious milk; not that man made crap at the store!! If you can’t produce milk they have an option for that too…there are not excuses for not giving your children what they deserve…MOTHER’S MILK IS THE BEST MILK! High fives for all the stand up women who breastfed/feed!

    • Alexa

      Wow, you deserve a medal.

  • Patagonia1245

    I couldn’t believe the “breastfeeding needs more support” comment in the article. I think breastfeeding is great, but what more support does it need?! I have friends who could not breastfeed for a variety of reasons and breastfeeding proponents made them feel like failed mothers. What bothers me about the whole breastfeeding issue is that moms who bottle feed (as I was, for my mother medically could not breastfeed) are villanised and shamed. I don’t see why this has to become an issue of us vs. them. I’m also bothered that the issue has come to the point where “if you don’t support me breastfeeding WHEREEVER and WHENEVER, you hate women and babies!!!!!” Can we please just reach some equilibrium on this?

  • spunknik

    Isn’t someone going to accuse Colen of being a “denier” or something? Isn’t the science settled?

  • David Govett

    I agree. It’s rather pointless after 20 years.

  • TreeJoe

    I was quite surprised at where this article was going until I read, “Using nationally representative survey data from 1986 through 2010, Dr. Colen and co-author David Ramey analyzed 11 key indicators in children from ages 4 to 14. ”
    While this is an accepted form of research – using non-study-specific survey data to detect trends – it is far from a gold standard. Let’s call out a few flaws:
    - Survey data is SELF-REPORTED data
    - A non-study-specific survey means it was general data gathered and then used in a very specific analysis, rather than data gathered specifically for the study. This introduces bias, as the questions asked may not even be appropriate for what the researchers tried to pry out of it.
    - There is bias in the fact someone opted to complete a lengthy survey about themselves and their kids
    The first and second bullet points are why this study, I’m sorry to say, is permanently flawed. You simply cannot reach causality-level conclusions from such specious data. I would say the same thing if the study said breastfeeding was good or inferior.
    My point being: A well-meaning researcher did a lot of work and published their findings. But realize the research itself was done with the most basic and risky of datasets – past general survey data.

  • HughdePayens

    Well that’s the ticket keep feeding your children stuff big corporations make…that’s been working out so well for the population in general. Recent trip to Disney and I was astounded by the fact that the fat far outnumbered the regular sized people and skinny was so rare it was shocking. Brought to you by the USDA.

    • MrNewCastrati

      Agree with your last sentence. The USDA cherry picks data to support what they believe, specifically, sat. fat intake is bad for you, etc.

    • Alexa

      Most of our food supply is poisoned.

  • PithHelmut

    I wouldn’t put too much weight on one study. I would be concerned about the milk given to infants that is made by big corporations.

    • MrNewCastrati

      PithHelmut, why don’t you change your name to TinFoilHelmut?

    • Dave Olson

      Since when are cows corporations?

  • Lauren Eileen Margolis

    Irresponsible study…neglecting the benefits of BF under the age of 4…to both mothers and their children. Where’s the mention of lower ear infections, virus protection, lowered chance of certain cancers for Mom, the importance of skin on skin touch????? Give me a break with this. It sickens me that people will use this as a “see, it’s ok if I choose a (less than perfect) alternate food for my baby”. I’m all for the right to choose, but lets avoid saying that there’s no difference here. UGH

    • Alexa

      Don’t forget all the toxins in breast milk.

  • Jen76

    Did Nestle and Gerber pick the headline for this? NPR, you should be ashamed of this headline. It belongs on CNN or Buzzfeed.

    • luis f

      Great, just bash the study because it doesn’t fit your pre-set idea. Great way to advance knowledge based on actual analysis of what’s happening.

  • Marie Ugorek

    Yup. Social factors (stress of socioeconomic origin, lack of other parenting practices often found in conjunction with exclusive and extended breastfeeding, etc) can undo in ten years the good done by breastfeeding. This should not really be a surprise. However, to extrapolate that this means that bottle feeding is just as good as breastfeeding is like saying Head Start and other state-funded preschool programs are a waste of money because our underfunded, one-size fits all, soul-sapping public education system can undo the benefits in three years. The short-term studies still show that there are great short-term benefits, so the questions need to be (1) What are the breast-fed babies getting that formula-fed babies are not getting? and (2) What are the breast-fed babies no longer getting when they stop breastfeeding, the loss of which is traumatic enough to counteract the early benefits? I strongly suspect the answers include, but are not limited to, one-on-one time spent skin-to-skin and eye-to-eye with an adult, the knowledge that their needs will be met in a timely manner by a caregiver, food security, age-appropriate and complete nutrition, and lack of anxiety (if only because breastfeeding on demand or when hunger signals first appear is easier than having formula already freshly mixed and up to temp).

  • EricBaum

    As I read the scientific abstract (and the full text for patients won’t load!) this article overstates the results in two ways. First, there is a significant benefit for breast feeding for one of the 11 tests, the abstract maddeningly didn’t say which one. Second, they are correcting for within family effects. This
    leaves open the possibility that, while they are claiming everybody else
    had a hidden factor under-correction, instead they are the one’s mistaken and made a
    hidden-factor over-correction.

  • WhighamMom

    Let’s see it replicated. Data pool and results are skewed if methodology isn’t rigorous as to what constitutes a breastfed infant. Some studies include any amount of breastfeeding, so an infant who breastfed in the hospital but was formula fed the rest of the year gets counted in the breastfeeding category. The infants in this study averaged 6 months of breastfeeding when the minimum recommended is 12 months or longer. A living fluid is superior to the artificial food. Women who choose not to breastfeed need to quit looking for justification, just say you didn’t want to do it.

    • Katia

      Don’t quit your day job to become a lactation consultant, PLEASE!

      • WhighamMom

        15 years as an IBCLC and 25 as a neonatal/OB nurse.

      • WhighamMom

        Too late, IBCLC x 15 years. There’s a lot of bad research re: breastfeeding.

    • Paula Cull

      Okay, dumb@ss, I didn’t want to do it because I was on life support for a month right after his birth and if I hadn’t been comatose and had actually tried to breastfeed, he’d been retarded because the medicines I was on to stay alive would have screwed up his development. Does that make you happy now?

      • Jen76

        You weren’t being personally attacked… no need for such behavior!

      • WhighamMom

        Why the hate Paula? My happiness is helping moms achieve their goals, not someone else’s. You have a lot of anger.

      • WhighamMom

        A little common sense goes a long way, so does reading comprehension.

  • Gaea Dill-D’Ascoli

    I’m glad to see studies being done on the issue of long-term benefits of breast feeding. It is quickly becoming a controversial issue in the US and we need facts and good, unbiased analysis of those facts to help us steer the best course.

    For this specific study, I would like to see a wider diversity of participation. What happens when the mothers do not live in the US with decent access to healthy foods and formula for babies? I know that many mothers struggle to procure good formula for their infants, but simply by living in the US mothers have more access to better nutrition for themselves and their children than many countries in the world. What happens to the study if the infants are undernourished? Or have sufficient calory count but insufficient vitamins and minerals, which is true in much of the developing world?

    I would like to see more studies being done on this topic which more accurately reflect life across the global, not just across the US.

  • I am Incognito

    I was breast fed. My younger sister was bottle fed. She also started smoking and drinking at age 13 and has continued that for 30 years. I have never done either. She has been overweight her whole life (something thought to have been caused by her being bottle fed) and lives on junk food and fast food. I have always had a healthy diet consisting mostly of fruits, veggies, wild rice, yogurt, and nuts. I have twice the health problems she does. Go figure. Just goes to show you that nothing is consistent when it comes to science or “studies.” My daughter was bottle fed (I had no milk) and she had one ear infection as an infant and hasn’t been sick since. Again, go figure. But, she eats pretty much like I always have – very healthy. Just hope it pays off for her.

  • skoorb62

    Excuse me, but perhaps there is a general confounding factor that is very poorly controlled in this study that negatively affects children. Could it be the food supply? Could it be the air we breathe or the water we drink? I find this hard to believe. Then I am just a father and a chemist

  • cbert

    The short term immunological benefits alone still make breastfeeding the better choice. So, while this study is intellectually interesting, I don’t think it changes the strong argument in favor of breastfeeding, especially in developing countries, where infant mortality is significantly increased among bottle fed babies.

  • Sarah Trammel

    Thanks for the Buzzfeed-esque misleading headline, NPR. One study based on self-report surveys of kids who breastfed anywhere from one week to a year, no mention of exclusivity or supplementation with formula, and you highlight the “no benefits” part? Absolutely ridiculous. One study pitted against, as Dr. Meek said in the article, “a preponderance of evidence…” Love how the author of this study talks about how all those other studies must be wrong.

  • Hydrium

    I love that the only source she cites is hidden behind a pay wall. I’m not saying she’s right or wrong, I’m just saying if you’re going to make a public claim then you better be prepared to cite your sources and debate them, not ask for a handout.

  • Julie

    A few things… The title is not misleading regarding the findings of the study, but leaves out crucial information contained in the article, so it is an ill-advised title. I would have hoped NPR would have chosen better, but I have seen other worse titles very recently.
    Not having the study to read makes it difficult to account for its strengths and weaknesses, but for anyone out there who is not familiar with reading and conducting straight-up research, an article like this is an okay way to get a feel for the results. (But you do have to read the whole thing!) Conducting research is complicated and narrow. And one study leads to another and so on. I can see here by people’s thoughtful comments that this study has done two important things that quantitative studies (numbers as opposed to stories, i.e. qualitative) are supposed to do: answer ONE question (a very narrow and specific question under narrow parameters). When you answer one question there are always at least 10 more you want answered, some of them are the same question just under different parameters. For example: asking the same breastfed v. bottle-fed question but compare only those who breastfed by WHO standards to those who only bottle-fed for a year. Then, once that question is answered, you have 10 more, and you or someone else has to start over again just to answer one of them. Imagine starting over again when your study took 4 or more years? For really good data it would take 20.
    This is a very general portrayal, and I don’t claim to be a researcher (because it is hard!! lol) so I’m sure some of you out there know a great deal more. Anyway, before judging the research too harshly try to take it for what it is and remember that there are always going to be tons of questions one study doesn’t answer.
    I am glad someone did this study and that it will lead to more research. The more we know about breastfeeding the better off we will all be. We will be able to make more informed decisions, or know more about the ones we already made.

  • briantrich

    This is an incredibly reckless piece to write about one study. The headline is that there are no long-term advantages for the baby with breastfeeding. Full stop. And yet the facts prove SIDS and a the chance of developing a variety of cancers for the baby and mother are significantly reduced with breastfeeding. How is NOT DYING not considered a significant long-term benefit?This author should be ashamed for promoting such limited and one-sided conclusions from a study.

    • terafied

      Well, there were two other studies done with similar findings. Maybe if you read it … Also, it PLAINLY states that the benefits evaluations were solely on the CHILDREN. You should be ashamed for judging from headlines.

      • briantrich

        So you don’t consider a significant reduction in SIDS a benefit for the baby. Okay then.

  • bblackmoor

    Better title: “Sibling study finds no long-term damage to bottle-fed children”.

  • Isonomist

    I call confounding factors. This study only looks at whether mothers claimed to have breastfed children in the past, accounting for on average, 6 months of breastfeeding (we don’t know the spread), does not differentiate between mothers who part breast/part bottle fed, and does not account for when mothers began feeding solids. I think it’s great that kids who never had breastmilk catch up with their siblings who at least got a few drops of breastmilk, but I don’t think this restrospective study proves anything.

    • terafied

      You don’t think there were controls in place for those variables?

      • Sarah Trammel

        The hilarious part is that the author of this study is more than happy to criticize ALL the other studies for “confounding factors,” but doesn’t even acknowledge the two biggest confounding factors in her study: This was a self-report survey, which has a high element of inherent bias, and it was a simple “Did you breastfeed?” yes/no question, which counts the kid who nursed for a week the same as the kid who nursed for a year.

      • Anna Perch

        There is no evidence that the authors tried to control for those variables. The only information used was 1) Did the mom breastfeed at all and 2) For how long. There is no information about whether any time was spent breastfeeding without any formula or other foods.

  • monica


    • terafied

      Because you don’t like it.

  • walnutosage

    I believe one needs to get away from the “breast is best” slogan and embrace the concept that “breast is the norm”, and that not breastfeeding puts infants at greater risk for health related issues, especially in the first year. I understand that the fervor for breastfeeding is to counter a century old fallacy that it makes NO difference in any way – hence some of the hype. Breastfeeding is not the icing on the cake, it’s a biological basic. It gives the child the best possible physiological outcome based on that child’s particular makeup. I also believe our society needs to recognize the importance of parenting overall, and that the quality of a parenting style does have an important impact on the development of the children. Sadly, parenting is perceived as a competition, and so many parents are made to feel defensive about their approaches and choices. That’s wrong, too.

  • ChefyO

    This is definitely a sensationalized story. Having a healthier baby IS a long term benefit. Better immune system IS a long term benefit. This is a non article that smells like it was backed by Nestle.

    • terafied

      Where does it say that a breastfed baby is a ‘healthier’ baby?

  • Linda McInnis

    The study finds that women who are middle class and higher educated breast feed their children, but that is not how it happens around the world. Women who are poor around the world will breast feed, because it is cheaper than buying baby formula. It was like that since the beginning of time, and only western women in developing nations, who had babies from the 1950′s onward had the benefit to not breastfeed.
    My brother and I were both breast fed exclusively. He was always a fat baby, a fat adolescent and an obese adult, and he died young due to complications of diabetes. Our lives diverged, and it had nothing to do with breastfeeding.

    • Katia

      I’m sorry for the loss of your brother.

  • Elena Pearson

    Only 23 weeks of breastfeeding on average? Why even study it at that point when the recommendation is to breastfeed for at least one year?

    • Katia

      “Only” 23 weeks? That is almost 6 months! Now, I’m one of these moms who breast fed for >1 year with both kids, the second was almost two when she stopped, but still. The bar gets set pretty high if you say a woman *must* EXCLUSIVELY breast feed for six months (no solids, no formula), and *must* continue breastfeeding for at least a year!

  • Guy Talking

    I hope this will temper some of militancy with which breastfeeding advocates attach mothers for whom breastfeeding is difficult or impossible. My wife was driven to tears multiple times by insensitive nurses who made my wife feel like a child-abuser because she couldn’t breastfeed. Our son was losing weight and would have been taken from us by the hospital if we hadn’t quickly switched to bottle formula. Today our son is 14, tall, strong and healthy, loving and caring and an honors student.

  • Stephanie Edson

    I breastfed my oldest. Two years later I was pregnant with twins and knew in my heart that bottle feeding was the right decision while chasing a toddler around. Are the twins less intelligent than their older sibling? No.

  • Jewell Sloan

    …i don’t think women breastfeed to make their kids smarter or well behaved. we do it for the health benefits, which are even acknowledged in this article.

  • Kate J.

    What about the diets and environmental factors of the women? Were they ingesting food containing gmo’s?, pesticide residues from produce?, did they live in a smog laden city? I think there are more factors that could be attributed to test results. We are what we eat and we are what our food eats…

    • gp4design

      There is nothing wrong with “GMOs”….

      • Amy Kono

        Agreed. I wish more people would take basic genetics courses or read up on how genes work. We’ve been genetically modifying organisms by cross-breeding for centuries.

    • Guinnessmonkey


  • gp4design

    Personally, I don’t need a study to tell me the breastfeeding is superior. You can do what you want, anyone can…and if I couldn’t breastfeed, I’d have given my kid formula and not felt bad about it. However, it’s pretty obvious that, you have a baby, you lactate, the baby gets the milk. It’s how it’s supposed to work. Pretty straightforward.

    • Paula Cull

      Is it really that straightforward? I’d beg to differ. I have three kids. The first two were breastfed but the third couldn’t be breastfed because I was on life support for a month after his birth, waiting on a double lung transplant. I’d be willing to bet that even though my child was bottlefed, he’s still smarter than your brat because he doesn’t have a mother that judges people over petty bullsh!t!

      • gp4design

        I guess you glazed over the part where I said I’d give my kid formula and not feel bad if I couldn’t breastfeed? Guilty much? Let it go. Your situation obviously was not normal.

      • Jen76

        You are just mean over and over again! Wow! I am sure your son is smart. I wonder how is manners are considering you are exhibiting such hostile behavior online? Chill out!

        • Paula Cull

          Wah, wah, wah! You can dish it but can’t take it, obviously! Who gives two flying flips if breastfeeding is “superior!” Sucks being on the receiving end, doesn’t it? Maybe you should think about that next time you decide to deride someone because they aren’t as obviously superior than you girls!

  • Melissa

    They used 11 outcomes to measure the effects of breastfeeding. “Outcomes include BMI/obesity, asthma, hyperactivity, attachment, compliance, academic achievement and competence.” Of course these are neither the only health outcomes breast feeding has been associated with in the past nor the only health outcomes someone would care about. It is interesting of course and may mean that that breastfeeding isn’t the panacea some activists might portray it as, but I also don’t think it means that breast-feeding’s benefits are only short term.

    • Katia

      Actually, I think those outcomes are ones that many consider important.

  • nikkilee

    This study lacks several important measures.

    There is no definition of breastfeeding. In current literature, breastfeeding is defined as full or exclusive, partial, or token. This study says only, “Yes or no.”

    As the benefits of breastfeeding are dose related, a baby breastfed once or twice a day for a few weeks would count as a breastfed baby. The true test would be to compare babies fed nothing but mamma milk for about 6 months with babies exclusively formula-fed for 6 months. Then compare differences.

    For how long were these babies breastfed? Again, it matters if a baby is breastfed for 7 days or 7 weeks or 7 months or 7 years.

    As the cohort was born in the late 1980s, exclusivity and duration were new to be considered; from what is in the study, women were asked if they breastfed or not. There are no other details listed, except mentions of duration in complicated tables of calculations about conditions. Data about duration is not given in this study.

    The findings are meaningless without knowing the details about breastfeeding.

  • citychick76

    I believe that every family should decide what method of feeding their baby is for them. But, growing up in a culture that labeled breast as a sexual object, I almost missed out on breastfeeding my baby. I’m fortunate that my husband pushed me to do it. Regardless of the health benefits debate, it is the best decision I made-I have such a strong bond with my baby, I can’t put it into words (not to say there are other ways to bond with your baby, but for me there is nothing more powerful). Another mother might make a different decision, (she might be on medications for a disease/illness, etc and can’t breastfeed her baby). This study is great because it tells women they do not have to feel bad if they can’t breastfeed their baby. But,on the flip side, they should not also feel shamed or get looks of disgust if they do breastfeed their baby in a public place (of course while being modest and respecting others) or even if they chose to breastfeed their toddler. The world is such a judgmental place!

  • Jessica Cole

    I think what most are not understanding here are the sociological factors that benefit children that play in with breastfeeding. As mentioned in the article, breastfeeding mothers are most likely to be more educated than those who don’t breastfeed. An educated mother who wants what is best for their child will more likely not only breastfeed (because it’s pushed down society’s throats that “breast is best”), but also raise her child(ren) more responsibly than an uneducated mother. In short, a child’s development has nothing to do with breast vs. formula, but rather intellectual influence from his/her caretaker.
    One more point: The government is sick of paying for underprivileged family’s formula.

    • gp4design

      I agree with most of what you say, but I don’t think the government cares about paying for formula…it’s a great little deal where the companies get money, you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Supporting breastfeeding with longer, paid (or subsidized) maternity leaves would probably cost everyone more money, but the fact that we don’t is just a symptom that our culture doesn’t value the right things.

    • Daniela Morales

      I agree with you; besides, have you seen the labels on formula these days? I highly doubt that any given breast milk has such nutritional value, if any, a mother would have to eat an extremely healthy diet in order to be able to produce breast milk comparable to formula.

  • Ron Rammelkamp

    Perhaps I missed it, but there is lots of snarky remarks on who paid for the study, who did pay for the study? My wife couldn’t breastfeed due to a variety of meds she was on. The doctors couldn’t say for sure if they (some/portion) were passed on through the breast milk, so we opted for the bottle. It was very hard and all the info about the greatness of breast milks made her feel really bad.

    • PITtoLAX

      If you click through the link to the study, the funding info is at the bottom of the page: “This research was supported in whole (or in part) by R24-HD058484 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development awarded to the Ohio State University Institute for Population Research.”

  • Katie

    23 weeks! Of course that is not long enough to determine the long term effects of breastfeeding! You need to study mothers who nursed one child exclusively and then into toddler hood and who did not nurse the other child. 23 weeks is good but not long enough to to make the decision that it has no long term effects over bottle feeding! Brain growth happens so much the first 3 years of the child’s life and brain is made up of a lot of fat. The fatty acids in the mothers milk is so good and perfect for that growth.

    • Katia

      The bar gets set pretty high if you say a woman *must* EXCLUSIVELY
      breast feed for six months (no solids, no formula), and *must* continue
      breastfeeding for at least a year!

      • Katie

        Personally I don’t see how exclusively breastfeeding your baby for the first year of life (no formula) is setting the bar high? If you give your baby breast milk for 6 months then why change to formula suddenly? (Unless of course something happens to the mother. Katia, I am not saying any mother HAS to breast feed. I am saying for accuracy of THIS study.

        • Katia

          I understand what you mean. Unfortunately, human research is hard to do b/c of many confounding issues like this. (That is something my physicist husband has trouble understanding.) Mom might have to go back to work, say at 8 wks or 3 months. Few employers give more maternity leave than that. It’s hard to pump enough breast milk when you’re working, so the baby might get a bottle of formula a day when at day care. Baby might be acting very eager for solids and start them at 4 months instead of six. (Recommendation is 4-6.)

  • Meidi

    Babies who breasted for only 23 weeks (quite possibly supplemented with formula) simply will not compare to babies who breastfed EXCLUSIVELY for 6 months and then continued breastfeeding with supplemental foods to the age of 1 or 2 years old. The results of this study are worthless if you are not comparing the ideal infant feeding recommended by the WHO or Surgeon General to formula feeding.

  • moosh

    Bottle fed my first, currently breastfeeding my second. My opinion? Fed is best. Period.

    • Cat


  • kaybee63

    Oh my goodness! Breast feeding isn’t a magic pill to assure a healthy, beautiful, brilliant, perfect child? I breastfed four children ranging from a length of time from four months to three years. We are white, two parent, well off and pretty well adjusted. Guess what? The one who barely got breast fed (I definitely supplemented with a bottle) is fine. The one who practically went to school still nursing is fine. The differences amongst all four by the usual markers are negligible. I breast fed because in my circumstances, it was cheaper, more convenient and I enjoyed it. If your circumstances are different (inconvenient, don’t enjoy it, not able to) then don’t, and just do the best you can. Breasts are meant for feeding babies (another topic unto itself), but then women’s bodies are allegedly meant for bearing children without dying in the process and that doesn’t always work out the way it should either, does it?

    • Sara Polis

      4 kids (especially kids of very similar gene pool) is not a study… I think people look for science and statistics

      • kaybee63

        I’m not saying my four kids are a good statistical sample, (although they would have been pretty valuable data points), but these studies are pretty difficult to control for all variables. I’m a supporter of breast feeding for many reasons, but I’m reluctant to peg something as complex as a child’s overall health and well being so strongly with a single input.

        • Sara Polis

          Yes it is difficult. Science is difficult but doable (most of the times). this is not a good study

          • Zoe Twitt

            I’m not sure that Kaybee is making any claims. Rather, she is simply offering her own advice as a parent, not a scientist conducting a study with 4 test subjects.

      • Lisa Murakami

        Indeed – that’s the entire point of this article and the study it discusses. Kaybee is merely chiming in with a big “duh”!

        • Sara Polis

          What is the entire point?
          The headline is misleading. This is the ultimate point the researcher is making:

          Ultimately, Dr. Meek said, “The preponderance of evidence, using well-controlled studies, would demonstrate that there are long-term benefits to breastfeeding, particularly when we look at exclusive breastfeeding for about six months, and longer duration of breastfeeding.” And, there are maternal benefits as well: lower risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, obesity, diabetes, ..
          But in many cases, “there’s dose dependency,” she said. “The longer the breastfeeding, the longer the exclusive breastfeeding, the less risk you will experience.”

          This is a very isolated study and it was not done for the recommended > 6 months.. and its not well controlled

          • Lisa Murakami

            I exclusively nursed my first until 15 months, and I’m still nursing my second at 16 months. Still, I have yet to see anyone state a legitimate problem with this study. Yes, the average amount of time the moms nursed was 6 months. But we’ve long known that even the temporary benefits of nursing (like immunity) drop dramatically at 6 months. At 6 months, the baby’s intake drops dramatically because their rate of growth slows and solids are started. If you’re asking me to believe that all those magic, alleged long-term benefits like avoiding allergies or increasing IQ, both of which are so clearly hereditary, actually all come down to nursing through months 6-12, well, there’s no way I’m going to.

          • Nicole Benenati

            I have 5 girls ranging from 2-10 and I have nursed all for at least a year. Not one over night stay in a hospital due to nursing and not one ear infection and maybe , a cold with a few of them a year. But illness in my children is very uncommon and I have 3 by my ex husband and 2 by my now husband so its not just genes.

          • Lawrence

            You have done a wonderful thing for your children. You probably didn’t have the time, but you made the time. You offered no sad excuses and you are seeing the benefits of it.

          • Cat

            Awesome. I can say the same for my formula fed twins. :-)

          • theophany

            The things you’re referring to that “are so clearly hereditary” have become quite a bit less clear in the last couple of decades, incorporating issues of epigenetics and its inter-generational lag to the perpetual debate of nature vs nurture. This becomes particularly problematic in these “tightly controlled studies” when the researchers don’t consider some environmental aspects to be remotely relevant, e.g., temperature, cellular inflammation, etc.

          • Lisa Murakami

            Also, the title is not misleading. The study says exactly what the title says. Dr. Meek is a pediatrician commenting on the study; she was not involved with the study. She *was* involved with contributing to the current AAP’s policy on breastfeeding which has long been criticized as being overly generous in what it attributes to breastfeeding. Of course, they could only really go on the studies they had. Now they have a new study that does a better job of controlling for things like socioeconomic status, culture, health care access, etc., that contribute to the decision to nurse and the ultimate success at nursing, that also skew statistics on IQs, obesity, etc.

          • luis f

            Dr Meek is NOT related to the study. It’s an afterthought from the writer of the article, which is only confusing because it actually does NOT address the study.

    • Lawrence

      The minimum you breastfed was 4 months, which is more than some babies get.

      Also there are many factors involved. For instance can you really measure the emotional effects of not breastfeeding?

      Millions of years of evolution of mother’s breast milk cannot be replaced.

      • Alexa

        Of course it can and has.

        • Lawrence

          If you would refrain from making outrageous claims, and provide evidence, your statements would carry more weight.

          Numerous scientific studies as well as common sense dictates my position.

          • Alexa

            Millions of babies around the world who have been fed formula have gone on to lead long, successful lives. Therefore, common sense shows it has been replaced.

            Maybe you should try to keep your emotions out of it and try to be more scientific.

          • Lawrence

            Alexa, yes being scientific and looking at facts is important. So I wonder why you simply came up with your claim without any kind of analysis or research to back it up. The RESEARCH below does show increased diabetes with exposure to formula and decreased with those breastfed. The same is true for ear infections.

            More scientific did you say?? Well this scientific article looks at many childhood conditions that are helped by breastmilk: Acute Otis Media and ear infection:

            Prepared by:
            Tufts-New England Medical Center Evidence-Based Practice Center Boston, Massachusetts:

            The three studies that were excluded from our meta-analyses compared breastfeeding for
            more than 13 weeks, 4 months, and 6 months with breastfeeding for less than 13 weeks, 4
            months, and less than 6 months, respectively.29,30,32 There was no significant association between
            the risk of AOM and breastfeeding for more than 13 weeks, while a significant risk reduction in
            AOM was found when comparing children who were breastfed for more than 4 months or 6
            months with those who were breastfed for less than 4 months or 6 months, respectively.


            The overall odds ratio of all included case-control studies that examined the association between
            never breastfed and type 1 diabetes was 1.13 (95%CI 1.04 – 1.23). Among these studies, fourteen
            also examined type 1 diabetes risk by months of breastfeeding duration. The duration categories in
            the analysis were cumulative, rather than mutually exclusive (i.e., some studies provided data on
            both 3-month and 6 month breastfeeding data in the same subjects). The summary odds ratios
            showed consistently elevated risks of type 1 diabetes associated with age at first exposure to any
            breast milk substitutes before 6 months of age. Since the majority of the studies reported odds ratios
            using a cutoff of 3 months when examining continuous exposures, this cutoff was used for the meta-
            analysis. The summary odds ratio for type 1 diabetes in subjects who were breastfed for less than 3
            months compared with those who were breastfed for at least 3 months was 1.23 (95%CI 1.12 –

    • angieazcaban

      Good to know. Our fourth just isn’t gaining any weight after a week of many painful breastfeeding attempts. He is getting milk, but is content with an ounce or two of a bottle. As of this week we have decided to go straight formula for him despite all of the voices against it. Our other children were only able to go about three months before I had to return to work and they transitioned to bottles. This child is just making that transition a little sooner. We would breastfeed if possible, but it’s just not happening. I have a feeling everything will turn out fine.

      • kaybee63

        He will probably be just fine – he’s your fourth, so you know kids are pretty resilient by now. Breast feeding is great, and aside from an awful case of mastitis with my second child, I’m glad I was able to do it, but look around you. All these successful (and sometimes judgmental) baby boomers and gen x’ers – if they were born in the 50′s, 60′s, 70′s – chances are most of them were bottle fed because it was the thing to do back then, and they turned out fine too. So, rest easy and enjoy the babyhood – it goes so fast, and good luck!

  • Layla Godey

    I thought the long-term benefits were less substantiated in the first place. It was the short-term benefits that were compelling. Regardless, breast-feeding should not bring hysteria to the puritanical, nor should it be shoved down a new mother’s throat by a city mayor… You’re not a good or bad mother based on breast or bottle!!

    • Lisa West


  • Kyle

    To all the cynics. Earn your Ph.D., conduct your own longitudinal study and then get it published.

  • Concerned Dr.

    This is simply not true. There is going to be a lot of discussion in the forums, so I’m not going to bother taking a real stance. The only thing I can ask the general public to do is to do more independent research. There are innumerable benefits to breastfeeding, and this study alone should not change people’s perceptions.

    • Lisa West

      This study doesn’t say there aren’t benefits to breastfeeding. It just seems to be indicating that those benefits may be primarily short term, and over the longer term diminish, or that those long term benefits may be being overstated. But even so, the short term benefits I found to breastfeeding are pretty darn good. I breastfed all three of my children for various lengths of time. The main short term benefit of breastfeeding did seem to be digestibility of the breast milk, which every new mom knows is important. But now that my children are grown you wouldn’t be able to tell by talking to them or their health history which one was breast fed for 2 months vs which was for 6 vs which one was nursed exclusively for almost 7 months then continued for almost three years – not by their intelligence, not by their current or past health, not by behavior issues, and not by their bond with me. Regardless, I still say breastfeeding is a great thing, but I would stop putting so much pressure on woman about it as if breastfeeding was a make or break thing for their child’s whole life. That’s how’s it’s coming across way too much these days and it’s not helpful. It’s actually stressful for many. So that aspect could be toned down a bit I think.

  • VauKat

    I know my circumstances are unusual, or at least I hope they are, but I have always been grateful I was bottle fed. Born in 1953 in a hospital that had a staph infection at the time, my mother was told she would not be allowed to breast feed me. She did breast feed my siblings born 3 and 7 years later. However, my mother was a chronic alcoholic. My baby sister looks extremely malnourished in her baby pictures, and now she has mental health problems and severe arthritis. My baby brother had fetal alcohol syndrome, and died at the age of 11 from an unrelated brain tumor. I have never made anyone feel bad about bottle feeding, not intentionally anyway, and I proudly proclaim that I was a “bottle baby.” Everyone’s circumstances are different and o one should judge.

    • Alexa

      It’s funny how the breast is beast motto doesn’t seem to take into consideration those babies who have alcoholic, drug using, diseased, or malnourished mothers whose milk is not best.

  • Katia

    The AAP recommends six months of breastfeeding. This study is called into question by some b/c the moms didn’t breast feed long enough, however, “She raised the possibility that perhaps many of the mothers in the study
    who breastfed did not do it for long enough to reap full benefits. The
    women who breastfed in the study did so for an average of 23 weeks.” This is almost six months, which is 26 weeks.

    • Annie

      The AAP recommends six months of EXCLUSIVE breastfeeding. It recommends at least a year of breastfeeding in general. The WHO recommends two years. How many of those who breastfed for an average of 23 weeks were exclusively breastfeeding? How many were also supplementing with formula? Those details seem like they’d be fairly important.

      • Lisa West

        Ok so now not only are ya gonna tell new moms they are not good enough for not breast feeding but you’re gonna start telling them they aren’t good enough if they don’t do it for two years? Nice.

        • Heléna

          No one is shaming moms who don’t breastfeed. Everyone has their own story. However, if a mom is successfully breastfeeding at the beginning she will be able to produce enough milk to meet her baby’s needs pretty much forever. It’s biological supply and demand. There are outside factors that can come into play, like illness, medication side-effects, stress, that can play a role. The bottom line though is to follow the recommendations to the best of your ability and don’t sweat the rest. Just be the best parent you can be in every way, and there are a gillion ways.

          • Lisa West

            New moms get shamed all the time these days for not breastfeeding, or stopping early. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pro-breastfeeding – short of shaming women. I nursed all three of my children for various lengths of time. However I am not for shaming moms. I’m for supporting them. If you have not seen or read non-breastfeeding moms being shamed, or the amount of pressure many feel about breastfeeding and how much they feel like failures because of the messages they have got about it, then you haven’t really looked.

          • Tessa

            I had 3 kids in five years, 20 years ago. The lactation lunatics are just as crazy now as they were back then. Thank goodness I was only around these cranks for five years of my life. PS None of you are all that special, just so tightly wound the anxiety the kid must experience must be worse than any benefit of breast feeding.

        • Katia

          And, they’re not good enough if they ever gave a bottle, even if they did bf until the baby turned two.

    • Twicker

      That average would take into account those who fed for a year or more. It doesn’t mean that everyone breastfed for six months-it could cover everything from a few days to three years, depending on how the study is conducted. It could be that if they eliminated all babies who were breastfed for less than two months that the results would show a big difference. Or not. That’s what the doctor is saying-along with Annie’s point about the details.

      • Katia

        Yes, well, amazingly enough, I know what an average means.

        • Twicker

          Then you won’t assume that it means that all the women in the study breastfed for six months. It is a fault in the study-or the article-that breastfeeding is not defined for the purposes of the study.

    • A_Marie

      I’d like to know how many mothers are physically capable of producing enough milk to EXCLUSIVELY breastfeed for 6 months, considering that most must return to work at 6-10 weeks. I think the recommendation needs to adapt to be more in line with our social construct in the U.S. (no universal paid maternity leave). Not to mention, would babies be as well off if mothers didn’t supplement when they felt it was necessary? Probably not, their development would suffer. Therefore marking the standard as ‘exclusive for 6 months’ is not an attainable goal for the majority of women. And as this study showed, it is likely not really a benefit worth the sacrifice, either – the mother’s mental health is not taken into account.

      • gp4design

        You don’t change the recommendation to fit our lifestyles, you change lifestyles—and therefore maternity leave policies—to match what babies need. Exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, biologically, is a totally attainable goal. The vast majority of women make enough milk, yada yada yada…it’s our lifestyles that throw the kinks in.

      • Katia

        I agree. The bar gets set pretty high if you say a woman *must* EXCLUSIVELY
        breast feed for six months (no solids, no formula), and *must* continue
        breastfeeding for at least a year!

        • Lisa West

          Yeah, or her child won’t get noticeable long term benefits? *eye roll* So, If she can’t breastfeed exclusively for 6 months and continue for at least a year, even better for two years, then maybe she just shouldn’t bother. Come on, some people want to make all this way too hard on women. Just feed your baby the best way you can.

        • Sam

          No axe to grind here. I think that the commenter who used that terminology was using it in reference to providing a better data set for a more comprehensive study. If the CDC recommends 6 months exclusive and 1-2 years additional (and the World Health Org. says 2 years minimum – worldwide averages are actually 4 years, yowza!), then something resembling those numbers is what should be used for a comprehensive study. In terms of official recommendations, 6 months (26 weeks) is a minimum and would likely skew results away from expectations (as was the case here). Seriously no judgement here, every mom should do what they can (recognizing that there are almost no aspects of motherhood that are as simple as we thought) and just have the best non-biased information and support possible. Happy mom = happy baby. And then we can all start signing petitions and making phone calls to get some non-neanderthal parental leave policies in the States (the only developed nation without anything).

          • Katia

            I don’t think the study was looking at the benefits of exclusive breast feeding; it was looking at the benefits of breastfeeding. I think you’d be hard put to find a big enough group of babies fed exclusively for 6 months, continuing for a year, particularly with siblings who weren’t breast-fed, to even do a study. ( I say this as a long time pediatric nurse.) Then the complaint would be there weren’t enough research subjects!

            I’d be interested in seeing some of this WHO data that the average is 4 years. I didn’t even see that in the Amazon.

          • Sam

            I’m not saying that the study was looking at exclusivity, I’m just saying that the previous poster (as well as the Dr. quoted towards the end of the article) suggested that following more closely to the official recommendations might yield yet again different results in terms of long term benefits. And, 25 years ago, I would definitely agree with you in terms of having trouble finding those kinds of numbers, but I think a lot of the anti-bf’ing effect of my mom’s generation has been countered and those numbers are likely there, especially in places where parental leave policies are considerably more supportive than the States. But I’m no scientist…and of course, I can’t find the page where I found that hella-big 4-year number. Sorry ’bout that – feel free to disregard.

          • Emily

            My daughter would have been EBF for 6 months, but her pediatrician told me that the brand new recommendations are actually that they get exposure to food from 4 months. The food she got in no way replaced milk in her diet, It was little tastes. I mad it to 8 months until my job interfered with my pumping and I had to supplement. She gets one formula bottle at daycare and whatever I can get out of the pump in the mornings. I’ve given up pumping at work. Sometimes she needs a little extra formula. But with me she nurses all the time and if I’m home she does not get and will not take formula. She eats table food like a champion, too. She’ll be 1 in a couple of weeks and I’m not stopping nursing until she wants to.
            My regret has been how lazy hospitals and doctors are at checking for lip tie. My daughter has a severe one and it took me ten months to figure that out on my own. They all told me pain while nursing just is what it is, sometimes, and I could give up whenever.

        • Jen76

          Why do people keep referring to it as a “high bar”? It is the norm in my country, and most developed countries. It is also suggested by WHO and your AAP. It’s common sense really, not a “high bar”. It’s not some magic number they randomly pick, it is what has been proven to be best for babies (no solids up to that point).

          • Katia

            Seriously? Most moms in “your country” breast feed for six full months w/o ever giving a bottle or a bite of cereal?

          • Jen76

            It’s common knowledge from my circle that cereal actually isn’t a good first food. Things like avocado or food full of nutrients are first foods. And no typically foods wouldn’t be introduced until 6 months, regardless of whether you are breast or bottle feeding.

        • Tessa

          If you are having a kid and you want someone else to pick up the cost of the food, you lose. The working mom, who would never dream of dumping the cost of their kid on others, picks up the tab.

          • Katia

            What the ??? What are you ass*uming?

      • Katie

        I know many exclusively breastfeeding mothers who work and go to school and exclusively breastfed the first year of life and into toddler hood. You need to first have motivation and support (WIC) is helpful. Plus a good breast pump too! Its so not impossible to do. You just do it and it is hard to stop especially when it has such a calming affect on the child and they really love their milk!

        • A_Marie

          See reply above. I breastfed for 10 months but it was NOT exclusive, because my child would have starved. And there is nothing wrong with that!

      • Sarah Trammel

        Yeah, I did it and I was a working mom. You take a pump and a cooler to work, and you leave bottles of breastmilk with whoever is watching the kid. It’s not that hard.

        • A_Marie

          I did pump, even before going to work, because I wasn’t making enough to have anything to freeze. I know plenty of women who make TONS of milk with little effort. On the contrary, I could not make that much despite extra pumping, so I had to supplement when I went back to work. I can’t believe you assumed I didn’t try! That’s what makes this so frustrating for so many women, and makes women feel inadequate or deficient in caring for their baby when they can’t ‘exclusively’ breastfeed.

          • Sarah Trammel

            I don’t know you, lady, so I couldn’t have assumed anything about you. I know some moms truly can’t, but most of the women I know who didn’t breastfeed didn’t even try. My own sister said she didn’t want to wreck her boob job. THAT is the epitome of selfishness, which is a far cry from not producing enough milk.

        • Amy

          Good for you. Have you ever thought others don’t have jobs like yours? I live in a state that doesn’t require breaks. I get a 30 minute lunch in my 9 hour day. How on earth could I keep up my supply doing that? When I left the hospital I rented a pump so it was a great one and I would sit for 45 minutes and get less than 2 ounces. My baby would eat 4 ounces then so explain to me how it is so easy? People need to stop criticizing, judging and butting in to others lives. What works for you doesn’t work for everyone. Do what works for you, stop acting like you are better than others and putting others down that can’t, don’t want to or choose not to for whatever reason.

          • Sarah Trammel

            I would never criticize someone who can’t. Someone who doesn’t want to? Yeah, I judge. There are a lot of things you don’t “want” to do as a parent, but you do them because they’re better for the kid. This is one of them despite the ridiculous misleading headline above.

          • Alexa

            Wow, don’t you deserve a medal.

      • Michele Salvadore

        I know lots of moms, working and not, who exclusively breastfed for 6 months and then into toddler hood (18-24 months). You and so many others are getting worked up about ‘an attainable goal’ being set and are missing the point of this article. The article wasn’t meant to judge, it was meant to find out if there are long term benefits to children who are breastfed. The point was that there are definite short term benefits, but they are unsure if there are long term benefits because the study didn’t include babies that were breast fed for the recommended length of time (exclusive until 6 mos, then into toddler hood). Most moms are physically capable of producing enough milk, that is what our breasts are there for. Most moms who think they couldn’t breast feed could benefit from some minimal guidance from a lactation consultant who could make them more comfortable, help baby latch…(of course there are exceptions, but most woman can do it!). And if breastfeeding is that damaging to a mother’s mental health, then I’m thinking she might not be mentally healthy enough to be a parent in the first place!

        • A_Marie

          The whole point of the article Michele is that all the ‘data’ behind the recommendation to breastfeed was not controlled for socioeconomics and genetics – and once it was, the conclusion was that breastfeeding was no different from formula in many areas. I was in the hospital for months and unable to breastfeed my second and felt guilt for almost 2 years because of something I couldn’t control. That does, whether you like it or not, contribute to a mother’s mental health, and when breastfeeding shows no benefits? What’s the point of stressing it?
          And I don’t know that studies have been done showing the variations with natural milk production but like so many other GENETIC traits, for you to acknowledge that there isn’t variation doesn’t make any sense.

        • Sam

          See Michele, you were doing well until that last sentence. I had pain and difficulty and needed guidance. I had the resources to get that guidance and it worked out very successfully for me. But everyone is different, and calling into question the mental fitness of women of whose circumstances you know nothing is both insulting to all women, deepens the “mommy war” rift and alienates the very people who might benefit most from clear, agenda-free information.

  • Scott Wahlstrom

    I love it when the data challenges the established paradigm. Let the studies continue and let’s understand this important issue.

  • Judy

    The last few paragraphs mention benefits of breastfeeding. That should be the title, not the reverse.

    • Nina

      I agree. The title seems misleading, and this is unfortunate. I can tell (by the comments left) that most people didn’t actually take the time to read this article. It clearly encourages breastfeeding over the bottle. It’s more perturbing to me to see that NO ONE READS!!!!!

      • kaybee63

        I did read it, right to the end. And there are tons of benefits to breast feeding (heck I breastfed for 6 1/2 years in total) and there are plenty of maternal benefits – saved a ton on formula and “feminine supplies” if nothing else. I just don’t think breast feeding is a magic elixir and if the disadvantages in a given mother’s case outweigh the advantages, she shouldn’t be shunned. I am in favor of all possible mechanisms to help out a nursing mother (public nursing, breast feeding and pumping stations, etc.) but in the end, it’s her choice and one would hope that most moms would do what’s in her child’s best interest and if that means not channeling steroidal prescriptions through her breast milk for instance, then that’s what she should do.

        • Nina

          I quote, from the article ““I’m not saying that women shouldn’t breastfeed and I’m not saying that breastfeeding is not beneficial,” The point of the article wasn’t to debate breast feeding vs. bottle feeding; it is a debate between LONG term breast feeding and SHORT term breast feeding.

      • cbert

        The article does, but the title doesn’t, and I would anticipate that many readers will simply make a simply “off/on” general conclusion about breast vs. bottle feeding. This is unfortunate but typical of human response to seek reductionist conclusions. The real issues suggested by this study are: what family social/behavioral variables are actually contributing to the overall development of our children?

      • luis f

        Nina, the title of the text reflects quite well the study. The article then asks other people NOT affiliated with the study to comment, and they say whatever, not making conclusions upon the data. Those comments are a source of confusion, and should not have been included. The title is very correct, and the study is very big, thorough, longitudinal, and should be very seriously taken.

    • Judy

      My name is Judy, too and that is what I was going to say. Misleading title!

      • luis f

        No it is not.The title reflects the study, and the tile is correct.

    • luis f

      Hi Judy, The last paragraphs are not related at all with the study; they are the take on someone else, that did no analysis on the dataset. The last paragraphs should actually not be in the text at all, as they obviously are a source of confusion.

  • Ghound

    I’m surprised such a “reputable” news source would even publish this poodle done and then poorly discussed “research.” Please share the whole story and report more accurately instead of posting headlines that promote poverty, malnutrition and developmental delay on infants.

    • RW2718

      That, unfortunately, is a defensive editorial by someone with a vested interest who, by his own admission, is not an expert on the design and evaluation of such studies.

      What’s really needed here is some people with no ax to grind and with the necessary expertise to determine what is or isn’t valid / suggestive in this study.

    • Nina

      Uhm, did you really read the whole article? Or did you just jump to conclusions when you read the headline? The article states, more than once, that breastfeeding provides a baby with waaaaay more benefits than bottle feeding. In fact, the article clearly encourages breastfeeding. The study was meant to compare LONG term breastfeeding with SHORT term breast feeding (and not a comparison between bottle feeding only and breast feeding only). What the article is talking about is, a study done on the LENGTH OF TIME a child is breast fed for. And what it found was, that breastfeeding your baby for more than a year has little to no additional benefits than breast feeding for up to a year. To quote ” We know moms are able to pass immunity through breast milk to babies, and that in the very short term, it makes sense biologically that this boosted immunity can protect their intestines or their lungs from infections. But this is likely to wear off fairly quickly during that first year.” Not every woman can breastfeed a child for over a year, my mother wasn’t due to medical issues. Many women who cannot breast feed this long, often find themselves stigmatized by other woman who can.

      • Lee Ann Slosar

        Actually the article mentioned that the study did NOT take into account the length of time the child was breastfed. The study looked at breastfed vs. bottlefed children to see if there were distinguishable differences after age 4. I wonder who paid for the study.

      • luis f

        Nina, that is not what the study says. That is what someone, who presents no evidence suggests in the text. The authors of the study (which is the beef in here) suggest that there is no particular differences in the long.term.

  • Larry Constantine

    One confounding factor might be the reasons why one sibling would be breast-fed and another not. Circumstances change with successive children. Were breast-fed babies more likely to be first-born or later-born? Was marital status at time a factor? Etc.

    Without access to the study (greedy Elsevier wants to be paid), it is unclear whether these were controlled for or analyzed, but I would place bets that the last word on the matter has not yet been written.

    • Nina

      Circumstances do change with successive children, but why would that be a confounding factor? My mother developed mastitis after I was born, so she could not breast feed my as long as she did my older siblings. I am the fifth and youngest child… to this day, I have shown no signs of being less healthy than my siblings. In fact, I’m the only one who has never been in a hospital.

      • Hydrium

        While that’s good that you’ve never been hospitalized your story is just that, a story. Anecdotal evidence has very little place in scientific studies.

        • Nina

          I wasn’t suggesting my anecdote should be taken as evidence. Obviously.

      • Marie Ugorek

        It would be a confounding factor because we do not know how much of the benefit of breastfeeding is due to the one-on-one attention, eye contact, complex mouth and tongue activity, fast reaction time, etc. common in breastfeeding. If a mother breast-fed the first child then returned to work full-time at 6 months, but by the time she was bottle-feeding the second (for whatever reason) she was able to stay home with the children, the increased attention the second child received may well make up for any losses from formula rather than breastmilk. A mother who was stay-at-home with multiple children but formula fed with the first one or two, then switched to breastfeeding, however, might have to split her attention among children enough, however, that the competition and stress among siblings could counteract breastfeeding benefits. Also, consider that certain environmental contaminants, such as lead and many contaminants in drinking water, have different effects on health if encountered at different ages, so living circumstances could also be a confounding factor between siblings.

        • Nina

          Good point! Well said.

    • jessicalisak

      I just posted this as my question, too! (Didn’t read comments until after I posted.) How can they not answer this question in the article?