Reading the flurry of recent online commentary about the new study that shows that the benefits of breastfeeding may not be as powerful as we think, reminds me of the way I feel whenever I read a story that reports that marathon running isn't necessarily so fantastic for your health: Gotcha! Though I enjoy exercise, due to banal body reasons I will never cross a finish line after logging 26.2 miles. And "marathon running is bad for the heart" headlines, no matter how inflamed they may be, give me a wee bit of pleasure.
So it seems to be for those who write about breastfeeding. Put it in its place! Take it down! The Ohio State University study, published online in Social Science & Medicine, appears to have been well-designed without any conflicts of interest. It found that among children age 4 to 14 years, there was no difference between those who were nursed versus those given formula on outcomes, such as body mass index, asthma, hyperactivity and math ability.
And that's really great news—a relief, really, since even nursing moms need to supplement with formula sometimes. I nursed my younger two daughters until a little after age one, right in sync with what the AAP recommends. My oldest daughter received pumped breast milk until 6 months, and formula after that, and I can say with her teacher's blessing that she's not at risk of being crushed in math. In other words, there's really no difference among my three girls now, though I do emphasize now. As babies, my oldest had more ear infections, and was much more prone to infections, in general, than my younger two. Is it because of the breast milk? Well, we'll never really know, she was also born premature, but research does show that breast milk passes along immunities that help prevent ear infections, respiratory infections, and diarrhea. Not to mention breast milk is easier to digest than formula (and gas never makes for a happy baby) and, most importantly, reduces the risk of SIDS. Those are benefits not to be dismissed.
It's time to rephrase our thinking that if a study finds that formula is good, it must mean that breastfeeding isn't worth the cracked nipples and plugged milk ducts. A step forward for formula doesn't have to result in a step backward for breast milk. And I would suggest to anyone who thinks that way to do what I do when I feel envious of my marathon-running pals: Sweat it out in a spin class.