Breastfeeding And Your Baby's HealthMar 20, 2014
Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones: We all know that breastfeeding is good for babies, but how much of that goodness is the breastfeeding and how much is it about the mothers who can and are willing to breastfeed? What about a mom who can't? This is Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at University of Utah Healthcare, and this is The Scope.
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Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones: So breastfed babies are supposed to be smarter than bottle fed babies, less prone to obesity, and less prone to immune diseases such as asthma, as well as some other benefits. The difficult question is, "Is it the breast or is it the mom?" We know that the best predictor of children's IQ is mom's IQ. How do we figure this out? Today on The Scope, we are talking about breastfeeding, a highly emotional and politically charged topic, but let's try to have a reasoned discussion.
In an effort to look at the question of breastfeeding in long-term child health, a study looked at 1773 sibling pairs over many years. They paired children who have been breastfed with a sibling who've not been breastfed and follow these kids over time. Same mom. Same mom's education. Same income. In this study, children who weren't breastfed had the same academic achievement, same body mass index as their breast fed sibs. And they were the same smartness and the same fatness. This confirms an early study that also found that breastfed children were no more likely to perform well at school or have ADHD than non-breastfed kids. These studies didn't look carefully into other health issues that are associated with breastfeeding like fewer colds or viral infections, fewer ear infections, and early newborn illnesses in general.
Breastfeeding has increased since 1950, but there's still significant cultural, racial, and economic differences. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend breastfeeding for a year, and the American College of OB/GYN recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months. This is very difficult for many women who have to work full-time or even part-time, and it's very difficult for many women who don't have support at home. So the majority of women who actually don't breastfeed for six months, these studies that we're just talking about offer encouraging information for women who cannot breastfeed for a long period of time. Then, what is it about moms who breastfeed that might be different is pretty clear that language and emotional responsiveness is learned and reinforced at a very early age, zero to six months.
Face time with babies, talking to babies is very important. It could be that the important factor is face time, not breast time. Moms who can plan and space their children so they have enough time with their infants are moms who have a number of other positive qualities: their own education, their emotional and intellectual IQ, and a financial or partner and family support to be there for their infants. We don't even know if it needs to be the mom who has face time with the infant or any other consistent caring person who could do this.
Traditional cultures all over the world have aunties, grandmas, and other women who can fill these roles. We suspect that the TV does not fill this role.
So, breast is best for the immunities that it can give the babies and even the bacteria from the skin from the mom helps populate the baby's intestine with good bacteria like vaginal delivery does. But for the claims that breastfed babies are smarter and thinner, that remains to be seen. Face time is important for infants. What they are fed is important, but apple juice in a bottle isn't a good idea. Moms should breastfeed for as long as they can, as long as it's emotionally and economically possible, but they shouldn't beat themselves up if it doesn't work out. So, thanks for all of us breastfed and non-breastfed people, thanks for joining us on The Scope.
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