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Apparently the benefits of breastfeeding have been greatly 'overstated'. Awkward.

In news guaranteed to ignite a million passionate blog posts and spark heated debates in birth classes and mothers groups, it appears we may have been sold a bit of a furphy about how Breast Is Best.

Stand down, breastfeeders. We are merely the messengers. Don’t shoot us. This information comes to you opinion-free. It’s science. We’re just saying.

The basis of the ground-breaking new research is this: previous studies in which breastfeeding is found to have significant health benefits over bottle feeding have always compared babies across diverse socio-economic and racial groups. When those factors are taken away and breast vs bottle is compared with children in the same families, the results are not nearly as clear cut.

In simpler terms: it’s well known that women with higher levels of education, greater income and more flexible daily schedules are more likely to breast-feed their kids.

So OF COURSE their children are going to rate better in the 11 outcomes previously shown to be positively impacted by breast-feeding: body mass index (BMI); obesity; asthma; hyperactivity; parental attachment; behavior compliance; and achievement in vocabulary, reading recognition, math ability, intelligence and scholastic competence.

This new study evens the playing field by comparing children in the SAME FAMILY – one who was breastfed and a sibling who was bottle-fed.

The research, led by Cynthia Colen, assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University, was recently published in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

And you may be surprised (we were) to hear the results.  From CNN:

When they looked at data across all families, breast-feeding had better outcomes than bottle-feeding in factors like BMI, hyperactivity, math skills, reading recognition, vocabulary word identification, digit recollection, scholastic competence and obesity.

However, when the researchers looked just at the siblings who were fed differently, the benefits were not statistically significant. The exception was that breast-fed children were at higher risk for asthma, though it was unclear if those reports were self-generated or actual diagnoses.

Colen suggests that the takeaway is to focus on other factors affecting a child’s long-term outlook, like child care, maternity leave, school quality, housing and employment.

A few other studies have also been skeptical of some of the benefit claims of breast-feeding, like weight maintenance. But this recent revelation is unlikely to change any recommendations, and breast-feeding is still highly endorsed by pediatric groups.

Multiple studies say breast-feeding is good for the development of the baby, and that it’s health protective for mothers as well.

And in Medical News Today, Colen noted that if long-term outcomes are not as affected by breast-feeding as were led to believe,  “We need to take a much more careful look at what happens past that first year of life and understand that breast-feeding might be very difficult, even untenable for certain groups of women. Rather than placing the blame at their feet, let’s be more realistic about what breast-feeding does and doesn’t do.”

And given the crippling guilt and judgement many women feel if they are unable to breastfeed or choose not to, this will come as a welcome suggestion.

What do you think about this new research? Did you breastfeed your baby, or use formula?