Monday, June 10, 2013

Not So Smart Breastfeeding Studies

Two new breastfeeding studies landed in the news trying to remind us that breast is still best for baby and mom. The first study, a brain imaging study found breastfed kids have more white matter in their brains. Naturally the authors want us to conclude breastfeeding makes kids smarter. No, they didn't bother with assessing the actual intelligence (or obscure brain physiology) of any parent in the study. That would have been too difficult. But that didn't stop the authors from doing brain scans on their kids. Nor did it prevent them from getting the data published. Imagine if you were doing a study about breastfeeding and child height, let's say you suspect breast milk makes kids grow tall.  Can you imagine making conclusions without assessing parental height? It's not smart. Using SES or education level as a proxy for intelligence is like relying on weight or clothing size as a proxy for height. Why wouldn't you measure adult IQ? It's a paper and pencil test. Dry but pretty easy. Study participants might not enjoy it but it's less invasive than a brain scan and of course you don't have to tell them hey, come fill out this test, we wanna see how smart you are. I think someone's gotten lazy when it comes to measuring those confounded confounding factors.

Speaking of not so smart omission of confounding factors....the second study comes from our old friends Bartick et al., the anti-formula-activists-turned-biased-breastfeeding-researchers of Suboptimal Breastfeeding fame. They would like to remind us not lactating enough makes women ill and provide lots of scary numbers the Surgeon General likely will cite. Instead of adding up the health costs children incur from not drinking enough breast milk, this time the SubOp authors add up the maternal health costs of not enough boobie milk. So instead of dead babies we got dead or at least very sick women. No, the authors once again failed to tabulate any costs associated with breastfeeding (i.e., lost sleep, lost work, lost time with other children, anxiety, stress, etc) - pretending once again that using one's body to act as the sole provider of sustenance for a tiny human for 6 months has absolutely no obstacles or downsides. It goes without saying they believe breastfeeding prevents or cures like every major health ailment.

I was going to debunk these here but a friend forwarded me a post by Dr. Amy, the SkepticalOb who did a bang up job and included her own stick-figure graphics that I think should become de rigueur in the boob-is-best literature. 

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't get why so many resources and so much energy is poured into trying to prove that breastfeeding is the be all/end all. It seems obvious that at this point we aren't going to find any huge differences between formula fed kids and breastfed kids (in developed countries). Any possible advantages to breastfeeding seem minuscule in the long term and certainly nothing dramatic enough to justify the amount of hype surrounding this issue. A baby will do fine on breast milk OR formula - end of story.

It seems like our collective time, money and energy could be better spent on more pressing issues.

Anonymous said...

Hi Polly, have you looked into any studies (if there are any) about how long kids breastfeed for and the effects? I'm thinking of all that noise a year ago over the Time Magazine article about attachment parenting and breastfeeding older toddlers. If you have any thoughts on that, I'd love to hear them! Thanks!