breastfeeding

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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?) Continue reading

Nursing Moms Rap: Teach Me How To Breast Feed

Breastfeeding is emotional, physical, political and, it turns out, catchy. At least as it’s featured in this fabulous mommy-power public health rap. (“All the babies loves it; all, all the babies love it…You ain’t messin’ with my breast milk.”)

Tons of research suggests that breastfeeding offers myriad health benefits to mother and child: a recent study, for instance, found that breast-fed babies scored higher on intelligence tests later in life than their non breast-fed little counterparts. Earlier this year, an economic analysis found that lower-than-recommended breastfeeding rates among U.S. mothers “may cause as many as 5,000 cases of breast cancer, nearly 54,000 cases of hypertension, and almost 14,000 heart attacks each year.”

So, watch the video above by TaNefer Lumukanda and see if it doesn’t get you in a nursing mood (or at least get you to smile at all of those happily sucking, satiated babies).

Breastfeeding May Lower Risk Of ADHD, Study Finds

To the long list of health woes breastfeeding might protect your child against, add this one: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

vintagebreastfeedingResearchers from Israel report that breastfed children may have a lower risk of developing ADHD, one of the most common neuro-behavioral disorders of childhood.

UPI covered the study, published online earlier this year and just out in the journal Breastfeeding Medicine:

Dr. Aviva Mimouni-Bloch of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and Loewenstein Hospital and colleagues completed a retrospective study on the breastfeeding habits of parents of three groups of children: a group that had been diagnosed with ADHD; siblings of those diagnosed with ADHD; and a control group of children without ADHD and lacking any genetic ties.

The study…found a clear link between rates of breastfeeding and the likelihood of developing ADHD, even when typical risk factors were taken into consideration.

Children who were bottle-fed at 3 months were found to be three times more likely to have ADHD than those who were breastfed during the same period, the study said. Continue reading

The High Cost Of Low Breastfeeding Rates

A new cost analysis of the long-term impacts of breastfeeding found that lower-than-recommended breastfeeding rates among U.S. mothers “may cause as many as 5,000 cases of breast cancer, nearly 54,000 cases of hypertension, and almost 14,000 heart attacks each year.” The study, led by a researcher at Harvard Medical School and published today in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology also found that the economic toll associated with such “sub-optimal” breastfeeding practices reaches into the billions annually.

breastfeeding

The study’s lead author, Melissa Bartick, M.D., an assistant professor of internal medicine at Harvard Medical School and an internist at Cambridge Health Alliance says via email that the bottom line of the analysis is this: “Women need to be supported to be able to breastfeed each child for at least a year — their health, and our economy depend on it.” She adds: “The CDC has found that 60% of women do not even reach their personal breastfeeding goals. Now we know this has a real cost, with thousands of women suffering needless disease and premature death.”

(Bartick also happens to be founder of the “Ban The Bags” campaign, a pro-breastfeeding advocacy group working to stop the common hospital practice of handing over free infant formula samples, or gift bags, to new moms after they give birth.)

Here’s more detail on the breastfeeding study from the Cambridge Health Alliance news release:

The analysis used sophisticated models to compare the effect of current breastfeeding rates in a simulated group of nearly two million U.S. women who turned 15 in 2002. The authors modeled this cohort of women across their lifetimes and estimated cumulative costs. They then compared these results to what would be expected if 90% of the women followed medical recommendations to breastfeed each child for one year. Currently, only about 25% of US children are still breastfeeding at one year of age. Continue reading

One Benefit Of ObamaCare: A Boom In Breast Pumps

While much of the discussion over the Affordable Care Act has revolved around big, complex questions about the insurance market, health exchanges and new payments systems for delivering care, The Washington Post reports on one of the law’s more intimate, down-to-earth provisions: free breast pumps.

Indeed, as The Post’s Sarah Kliff notes: pump demand is intensifying following full implementation of the law’s provision requiring insurers to cover the cost of providing breast pumps and lactation consultants to women.

(Wayan Vota/flickr)

(Wayan Vota/flickr)


She writes:

“We’re getting a lot of calls from prospective mothers and new mothers,” said Bruce Frishman, president of New Hampshire Pharmacy and Medical Equipment, a supplier based in the District. “We’ve started stocking a lot more pumps that would be purchased through insurance.”

Yummy Mummy, a New York boutique that specializes in breast pumps and accessories, is in the process of acquiring a warehouse and call center to accommodate the increased demand.

“I have three employees taking calls right now,” owner Amanda Cole said. “We’re still in the stage where we’re figuring out how to add fax machines and phone lines. It’s all very new to us.” Continue reading

All Mass. Maternity Wards Now ‘Bag-Free,’ No Baby Formula Gifts

A State House press conference this morning announced the official advent of the “bag-free” era in all Massachusetts maternity wards. It proclaimed that as of July 1, all the state’s hospitals have stopped distributing those little gift bags of baby formula samples to new mothers as they head home.

Massachusetts is the second state to go “bag-free,” following Rhode Island. From the press release:

Research has shown that mothers who receive infant formula samples are less likely to breastfeed exclusively and are more likely to breastfeed for shorter durations, contradicting recommendations by all major healthcare provider organizations to exclusively breastfeed for at least the first six months of an infant’s life. The vast majority of hospitals in the U.S. currently distribute industry-provided infant formula samples to new moms.

As a part of a national campaign, Public Citizen sent letters in April to more than 2,600 hospitals nationwide, urging them to stop the practice. The organization said that hospitals nationwide should follow Massachusetts’ lead and stop marketing on behalf of the infant formula industry.

Readers, thoughts? Tune in to Radio Boston today between 3 and 4 for a discussion of how the ban on baby formula gifts will affect new mothers. I have to confess to a little ambivalence: No, formula makers should not be allowed to market to vulnerable new mothers in the trusted hospital setting. But…

My daughter was born huge at nine pounds and four ounces. After nearly two weeks of exclusive and peaceful breastfeeding, she had dropped to eight pounds and my pediatrician told me I would need to supplement my breast milk with formula, even as I struggled to pump up my output. At a point like that, samples come in handy. A great many mothers supplement their breast milk with formula, and the stuff is so expensive it’s stored under lock and key in drug stores. So free samples will make sense for many mothers, if distributed some other way.

At the press conference today, the bag ban won high praise from — among others — Dr. Lauren Smith, medical director of the state Department of Public Health, who said that the state’s hospitals should be commended for voluntarily supporting the ban, doing “what many hospitals haven’t done in other states.”

“Rhode Island was first,” she said; now Massachusetts has gone “bag-free,” and she expects “that the dominos are going to start to fall around New England” and farther. “I suspect the work we have done will be followed up all across the country,” she said. Continue reading

Big Kids Breast-Feeding: This Week’s Startling Time Cover

Time on attachment parenting: Has it gone too far?

Time on attachment parenting: Has it gone too far?

Time magazine this week asks some important questions about attachment parentingand whether its practitioners’ relentless concerns with long-term breast feeding, co-sleeping and “wearing” their babies for constant comfort is rational or insane.

But more than the stories, it’s the cover photo that will grab your attention whether you’ve got your kid in a sling 24/7 or not.

It shows Jamie Lynne Grumet of Los Angeles, baring her breast for her three-year-old son (who seems like a particularly large child) to suck on. There are more pictures inside. These are startling images, even for someone like me, who nursed my kids past the two-year mark.

Readers, please weigh in here. Do you find these arty photos of moms breastfeeding their three-year-olds discomfiting or empowering?

Slate’s Hanna Rosin finds the whole concept alarming, as she writes here:

Attachment parenting demands not just certain actions you take with your baby but also certain emotional states to accompany those actions. So, it’s not just enough to breast-feed but one has to experience “breast-feeding induced maternal nirvana.” Continue reading

Behind Breastfeeding Victory: 'Motherhood And Career Collided'

Sophie Currier and Lea

Sophie Currier and her daughter Lea, now almost five. (Photo courtesy of Ali Smith, from her upcoming book, "Momma Love: How the Mother Half Lives," http://alismith.com/blog/category/momma-love).

In 2007, when Dr. Sophie Currier’s daughter, Lea, was four months old and still exclusively breast-fed, Sophie requested extra break time during an all-day medical licensing exam to pump her breasts. The test’s overseers, the National Board of Medical Examiners, said no, that breastfeeding was not federally recognized as a legal disability and therefore could not be accommodated.

Sophie, who has an MD and PhD from Harvard, fought that decision, and just last Friday the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in her favor, citing “barriers” to breastfeeding and saying the medical board did indeed have to give nursing mothers extra break time to express milk. Since only women breastfeed, the issue is one of gender discrimination, the court found.

Though the decision was narrowly oriented toward Sophie’s specific case, it “potentially impacts any testing organization that administers these types of professional exams,” said Sophie’s pro-bono lawyer, Marisa Pizzi of the firm Bowditch and Dewey. “The court was very clear that we’re talking about a lengthy exam, in this case one that extends nine hours. So any professional exam that takes course over such a long period of time could potentially be subject to these new protections.”

For Sophie, now 38, the classic career-family crunch time of life has included the added complication of a major lawsuit. She now lives in London with her husband and two children, has passed the British medical licensing exam and is planning to run the 26-mile London Marathon on Sunday. The lawsuit has been a nearly five-year journey for her, and though she won, she has also paid a personal price. We spoke by phone; our conversation, edited and distilled:

Your lawsuit turned into a long fight for you. What made you step into this fray?

I might be overly idealistic, but I believe very strongly that you cannot make progress and improve the world if you’re just going through the motions and taking whatever injustice comes your way. I believe fundamentally that if we don’t stand up against injustice, civilization falls apart. I would not have birth control or be a physician scientist if other women had not stood up for justice in the past.

How did the board’s denial and the lawsuit affect your career? Did you feel as if you were penalized?

The scientific way to look at it is that before the lawsuit, I had gotten into a very prestigious residency program. All the programs I applied to in 2006 and early 2007 had called and told me I was a top candidate in pathology, and I got my first choice of programs.

After the lawsuit, I applied two more times to about 30 residency training programs. Despite later getting a strong score on the exam in question, I got two interviews and one acceptance. Unfortunately, this acceptance was in a location that was not possible for my family.

So you were effectively blackballed? Continue reading

Mass. Court Rules Breastfeeding Mothers Get Time To Pump During Tests


WBUR’s Ben Swasey reports here:

BOSTON — The state’s highest court has ruled that breast-feeding mothers must be accommodated when taking medical exams.

“Our decision,” the Supreme Judicial Court wrote, “recognizes that there remain barriers that prevent new mothers from being able to breastfeed or express breast milk.”

We covered the legal arguments in this case in some detail in December — that post is here – and laid out the facts this way:

In 2007, Sophie Currier of Brookline, holder of M.D. and PhD degrees from Harvard, asked for extra time to take an all-day medical board exam. Her daughter was four months old at the time and exclusively breast-fed, and she needed more than the standard 45 minutes of total break time to pump her breast milk. The test’s overseers, the National Board of Medical Examiners, said no.

From the law firm that represented Dr. Currier, Bowditch & Dewey:

In a landmark case that has implications for all testing organizations in Massachusetts, a unanimous Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that breast-feeding mothers are entitled to special accommodations to allow them sufficient time to pump milk during lengthy testing for medical licensure.

Continue reading

Breastfeeding Battle Heard In Mass. High Court

In 2007, Sophie Currier of Brookline, holder of M.D. and PhD degrees from Harvard, asked for extra time to take an all-day medical board exam. Her daughter was four months old at the time and exclusively breast-fed, and she needed more than the standard 45 minutes of total break time to pump her breast milk. The test’s overseers, the National Board of Medical Examiners, said no.

The conflict has wended its way through the legal system since then, and late last week reached the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. (Here’s my original front-page story back when I was at the Globe, the New York Times version and an update when Dr. Currier brought suit.)

You can watch the half hour of arguments before the SJC online here by clicking on “View oral argument with Windows media player.” As the hearing opens, Dr. Currier’s lawyer, Marisa Pizzi of Bowditch & Dewey, begins:

jcarter/flickr

‘Today this court has the opportunity to level the professional playing field for nursing mothers striving to balance blossoming careers in medicine with their family obligations. Since the outset of this case in 2007, Dr. Currier has sought only one simple thing: To give nursing mothers who are physicians in training the extra break-time they need during the US Medical Licensing Exam, known as the USMLE, to express milk for their young babies in a safe and sanitary fashion during the course of the exam.”

The lawyer for the medical board, Joseph Savage Jr., argues the opposite: “If you follow their logic,” he tells the justices, “the one thing that will happen as a result of their argument is an unleveling of the playing field. If every applicant for the test who has a gender-related physical condition that requires additional time is allowed a modification of the test, you will have a disparity. For example, if a woman comes in and says, ‘I need additional time because I have cancer treatments for my thyroid,’ and a man taking the test says, ‘I need additional time because I’m having cancer treatments for my prostate,’ we would be required under their logic to give the man additional time and not the woman.”

For background: The medical board policy is to make testing accommodations only for disabilities recognized under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Breastfeeding does not count as a disability. (The board did allow Dr. Currier to take the test over two days instead of one because of ADHD and dyslexia, both recognized under the ADA, but that does not affect the crux of the legal arguments.)

The justices grill both sides, and if you watch the video, I’d be interested to hear whether you think they lean in one direction or another. At one point, Joseph Savage argues: “We deny everybody equally. We give men and women the same standard.” Continue reading