The Benefits Of Breastfeeding May Have Been Exaggerated, To Say The Least, According To This Study

All of the hype about the incredible benefits of breastfeeding might just have been, well, hype. According to a recent study from Ohio State University, major advantages of breastfeeding over bottle-feeding are, contrary to popular belief, few and far between. Which is no small finding: Remember Mayor Bloomberg's campaign to get more women breast-feeding? That could've all been for nothing.

The study, published in Social Science & Medicine, examined 8,000 children between the ages of four and 14. Of those 8,000, 25 percent — or 2,000 — were in "discordant sibling pairs," defined as a sibling pair where one was breastfed and the other one was bottle-fed. Those 2,000 babies were examined for 11 health factors, which included obesity, BMI, asthma, and intelligence

Of those 11 health factors, 10 proved not to be significantly influenced by breastfeeding. In fact, the study found that the only benefit of breastfeeding was a reduced chance of asthma. But why, then, did previous studies conclude that breast-feeding was remarkably better than bottle-feeding? What led Michael Bloomberg to lead a entire campaign encouraging women to breastfeed?

The study's lead author, OSU assistant professor Cynthia Colen, has an idea. In a press release, Colen said:

Many previous studies suffer from selection bias. They either do not or cannot statistically control for factors such as race, age, family income, mother’s employment – things we know that can affect both breast-feeding and health outcomes. Moms with more resources, with higher levels of education and higher levels of income, and more flexibility in their daily schedules are more likely to breast-feed their children and do so for longer periods of time.

In short, it's well-established that previous studies showed breastfeeding to have a correlation with healthier babies — but, according to Colen, that correlation may have been strongly linked to the socioeconomic status that the ability to breastfeed entailed.

Colen's conclusion? Breastfeeding is great, but we shouldn't place such heavy emphasis on it being a necessity.

That doesn't mean that we shouldn't continue to support the breastfeeding rights of mothers. Nursing in public remains heavily stigmatized, and some mothers have to sue for the right to breast-feed. This week, the hashtag #NursingInPublicIs spread like wildfire on Twitter, thanks to activist Diane Levad Whitmire.

After all, it's easier to open a blouse than carry around a full bottle, and every new mother deserves the right to breastfeed. They also deserve protections in the workplace, as Bustle reported back in December.

A provision attached to the 2010 Affordable Care Act demands that mothers have the right to pump at work in a clean, non-bathroom, private space. The only problem? Enforcement isn’t always working. Last month, a Pennsylvania mother sued her workplace for failing to respect her right to nurse under those conditions — and she’s not alone.
Now, a special report for NBC by reporter Allison Yarrow reveals that 169 investigations by the Department of Labor found 71 violations of the nursing provision. In the case of Bobbi Bockoras, who has joined forces with the ACLU and Equal Opportunity Employment Commission to sue her workplace for not respecting her right to pump milk under private, clean, and respectable conditions, Bockoras claims her company refused to provide her with a space to breastfeed that wasn’t a bathroom.