Monday, January 03, 2011

Breastfeeding as Proxy for SAT Scores: Does Breastfeeding Spell Less Sleep and Better School Performance?

Howdy, my sleep-deprived friends and fellow parents. Got to hold a little itty bitty baby this New Year's Eve.  How I  miss those teeny tiny hands and feet!  But not the tiny stomachs and the tiny bouts of sleep.  Speaking of sub-optimal rest, some of you might have you heard that breastfed babies sleep less and thus deprive their moms of sleep.  Had to write about a new study out of West Virginia questioning that mommy myth. 

Did breastfeeding spell less sleep?   No.  Nada.  In other words, new moms you now have one less reason not to breastfeed according to those who can't help telling new moms what to do.  And of course I couldn't help but take the study on in my Naked Data column over at ParentDish (A Good Night's Breast: Does Breast-Feeding Mean Less Sleep?).


I was happy to see that some mothers, including those who had breastfed, didn't buy into the breastmilk-is-god hype and took the time to let me know. Thanks, ladies, your parenting savvy warms my heart. Yes there are all kinds of things we do to nurture our children.  How and what we feed them in the first year of life is but a relatively small contribution. 


And of course the usual suspects showed up in the comments.  Those who bemoaned my poor children being breastfed for a measly three months.  (So deprived, if only I'd let them suck along for another year, maybe our lives would be utter bliss.)  Of course some mommas asserted breast milk made their children smarter, healthier, and happier.  

Geez, maybe college admissions applications should include this information as a short cut for a young person's achievement and abilities, their over-all well-being and potential.  Folks seem unhappy with SAT scores, they're so objective and uncaring, who wants to be summed up in a three-digit score anyhow.  So maybe we should use breast-feeding as a proxy.  It conjures up warm fuzzy images of the applicant at his or her most vulnerable. 

Please describe your breastfeeding experience below.  Did your mother breastfeed you?  If so, how long? If not, please indicate why not and how you have been impacted.  

Three months gets you a second look.
Six months, the acceptance letter. 
One year? Maybe a scholarship. 

Not at all - are you kidding, how in the earth did you end of in our admissions pool.  You drank formula and accumulated these fine set of accomplishments?  True genius.  Maybe not being breastfed should be considered a deficit.  Maybe those kids should merit more time on the standardized tests, an extra look in the admissions process, their own scholarships. 

I know, it's a stretch.  It's crazy.  But so is this breastfeeding beatification. 

Witness the new study out of Australia published online last month in Pediatrics suggesting breastfed kids excel academically in middle school. 

I can barely stomach the speculative conclusion that comes without the proper adjustment for momma's intelligence not to mention dadda's.  Let me make it clear - educational attainment and income are not the same thing as intelligence.  But the researchers believe they are good enough to make their case. 

There's another very large red flag - the breastfeeding benefit emerged for boys and not girls.  Oh boy.  Not a good sign.  There's little reason to believe the brain boost only works for boys.  Oh sure the authors have to speculate about neuro-development differences and the mother-son bond but we've never heard tell of those gender differences before which should make you very suspicious. 

Makes me wonder about how the moms who breastfeed for 6 months may be different.  Maternal behavior that attributed to the breastfeeding and their son's but apparently not their daughter's better educational outcomes.  What about you? Also makes me think the "effects" might disappear if the researchers had controlled for maternal IQ.

If this study were a graduate thesis, the committee reviewing it would have had reason to reject it.  I'm just saying, not a good one here.  But it's a beloved topic so it gets not only a free pass, but prime spot in Pediatrics.  Proving even the best journals fall prey to bias.  You can read this clunker for free if you find yourself stuck on a snowy tarmac or waiting in the returns line. 

Oh yeah, Happy New Year!  My wish? Better studies, better media reports, and of course, more sleep for everyone.  

2 comments:

TherExtras said...

Happy New Year, Polly!

The hyperbole of one study = news (promoted by an agenda) continues. I cannot even be hopeful that your 2nd wish will come true. I fear better media reports are a lost cause. But, better studies are possible and I believe the debunking you do here has helped (in the larger scheme of things). And more sleep for all! Barbara

PS One of your posts will be linked in my next post.

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Happy New Year to you, Barbara! Thanks for putting it into perspective. Yes, I dream. I'd also like to not feel irritated by any more breast-feeding studies, but what are the odds? So I will close my eyes earlier tonight and get more sleep.

What have you got planned for your post?