Is Breast Best?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Joan B. Wolf, assistant professor of Women's Studies at Texas A&M University, challenges the belief that breastfeeding is medically superior to bottle feeding in her new book, Is Breast Best?: Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood.


Joan B. Wolf

Comments [50]

Patty from NYC

Regardless of what the research can or can't prove, formula is more expensive. And what is heartbreaking is that there is a stigma among some low-income women, who feel breastfeeding is only for women who "can't afford" formula. :(

Apr. 28 2011 11:31 AM
Katie from Huntington, NY

Why are we still debating this? It is up to the mother to decide what is right for her and her child and it's no one else's business. I didn't breastfeed because I was told bottle feeding was better...I now believe nature is better, but my children didn't seem to suffer. But it is still the decision of the mother and she should not be made to feel guilty for that decision.

Mar. 14 2011 09:16 AM

Not to mention that breastfeeding is better for the mother. It scientifically reduces a mothers chance of breast cancer.

Mar. 08 2011 10:50 AM
jk from nj

Are the benefits worth the committment? If your number one priority is health, it's a no-brainer. What is more important than your children's health?

How was it SOLD to me? common sense.

And you are right, we don't need any more studies to show breastfeeding is better. Waste of time and money.

Breastfeeding can make matters worse? Really who is paying her?

Mar. 03 2011 04:03 PM

This guest is somehow pay by formula makers or suppliers to formula makers! There is no question that nothing nutritional that is man made can ever best nature - assuming the mother doesn't drink the same toxins in formula. You can do better than this. There is no debate. This is crap, crap crap. Stop it.

Feb. 23 2011 02:47 PM

I did not appreciate Mike's non-objective and sarcastic tone in this interview. Breastfeeding advocates see themselves as the mother of Achilles, imbuing their babies with mythical powers? What an incredibly unconstructive joke. There's nothing I hate more than hearing breastfeeding characterized as an elitist luxury for upper-class overachievers. That is so played out.

Hurry back Brian!

Feb. 23 2011 09:10 AM

why would i pay for crap food? when breastmilk is constantly changing and adapting? the milk produced for a newborn is different from the milk produced for an 8 month old. Formula can't do that.

formula has excessive salt, has MSG, has 50% corn syrup and DHA created with hexane. that is the least of the crap too.

breastmilk is free and easy. it's already the right temp and there is no need to even involve bottles. no mess to clean up, spit up doesn't stain.

Feb. 23 2011 09:03 AM
Sally Lederman from Wayne, NJ

The speaker failed to note several important things. First, breast feeding studies in the US generally compare any breastfeeding to no breastfeeding. Since exclusive and long BF is rare in the US, some studies find only small benefits of "any BF". The more BF is done as recommended, the bigger its effects will be.
Also, infant Infection is not the only issue, but that issue is more important than she said (dismissively, I might add). Over 220,000 infants are hospitalized for diarrhea in the US (2001 report). Of these over 400 die. Other studies estimate that over 900 infants die from suboptimal BF each year. Many more stay in the hospital for days. What do you think parents would be willing to do to avoid this? Formula fed infants are repeatedly shown to have about 3 times as many hospital admissions as BF infants. Is it all due to their families being better? Do you want to risk that? Three to six months of exclusive BF has been estimated to have resulted in a 72% reduction in hospitalization for lower respiratory tract infection in the first year of life, a 64% redn in GI infections, a 50% redn in ear infection. There is so much difference in the experience of child illness, that businesses that allow mothers time to breastfeed (or pump breast milk) experience many fewer absence days of the mother (for child illnesses).
With regards to benefits other than infection reduction, breastfed infants also have lower rates of ulcerative colitis and Crohns disease later in life and less type 2 diabetes, as indicated by metaanalyses that combined the results from a wide array of studies.
Many, many studies of different types, with different classifications of breastfeeding duration and intensity, in different populations, have shown that more intense and longer BF is associated with increased IQ both in children and adults. Such a dose-response effect is considered strong evidence of causation when randomized control trials are not possible. This kind of result (dose-response effect) was part of the evidence that smoking caused lung cancer---also a case where randomization of people to different exposure groups was not possible.

Feb. 23 2011 08:22 AM
Estelle from Austin

The biggest pressure I felt to breastfeed came from other moms. I had trouble because of medical reasons, and supplemented with formula. One mother I knew had the nerve to email me a bunch of links, one of which was on the evils of formula. She actually seemed to think she was being helpful. I was shocked at the insensitivity. I feel sorry for *her* child, having such a rigid, judgmental &$%# for a mother.

Feb. 22 2011 04:43 PM
Denise from Long Island

I absolutely get that militantly insisting that breastfeeding is the only "right" way to feed an infant is counter-productive. That said, we are mammals who feed our young our milk. It's what we're made to do. Sure, in the past if a mother couldn't breastfeed (much, much rarer than propaganda by formula manufacturers, and by that I also mean baby magazines that take their advertising) and couldn't afford a wet nurse her baby would suffer, so the fact that we have safe, decent formula options is a wonderful thing. Same goes for adopted babies, and so on. Formula has its place, but it should not be at the top of the list. By the same logic, C-sections have their place (to save the life of the mother and/or baby).

I agree 100% with KJ from NJ, above: stop confusing advocacy for breastfeeding with militancy. Women do need more support to nurse, not less. A lot more.

Feb. 22 2011 02:56 PM
Emma from NJ

I think it is important to note that this young woman's PhD is in Political Science, she does not have an MD or even a PhD in the hard sciences, which I feel would make her more qualified to truly evaluate the research in this area. True that many studies are based on correlation but there are ways to control for confounding variables in order to make the relationship more clear. I find it hard to believe that none of the breastfeeding research has utilized sophisticated statistical techniques in order to parse out the effects of the breastmilk from everything else in the child's environment. I understand her point that guilting women is not a good approach, but denying reality is not a good idea either.

Feb. 22 2011 01:15 PM
Edward from NJ

I don't know if many of the commenters here actually listened to the segment. Dr Wolf acknowledged that there are health benefits to breastfeeding. All things being equal, breastfeeding is preferable. However, things are not all equal in the real world. Many women have physical or logistical obstacles that make breastfeeding difficult, if not impossible. How do we as a society encourage breastfeeding without making women who don't or can't feel like horrible mothers ruining their children's lives?

Feb. 22 2011 12:50 PM

Just once I would like all of these experts to shut up and say "you're the mom - you know what is best for you and your baby".
I have 8 month old twins, including one who has severe health issues and a feeding tube. And so as with everything we have had to compromise on the feeding thing.
Both of the babies get some breast milk and some formula. I have been pumping and nursing and bottle feeding and doing formula pretty much the whole time. The idea that you have to "pick a side" and be all crazy and militant about it is insane to me.
I feel like people (experts in particular) are like this about everything with kids; vaccinations, sleep training, pacifiers, potty training, etc. I am doing my best to drown out all the rhetoric and find a happy medium for everything, but that sort of philosophy doesn't sell books I guess.

Feb. 22 2011 12:14 PM
MG from Brooklyn

Why are we debating the benefits of breastfeeding? Or is this rather a justification for moms feeding formula? Everybody has a right to decide what to do, but surely something that nature intended is more beneficial than a man/woman-made imitation. I am a breastfeeding mother of twins, and yes, I have fed the occasional bottle. But to argue that thousands of women are tied down to breast feeding as a terrible thing, I question. I made the decision to have children and I don't feel compromised the slightest. I rather feel empowered as a woman to have made that choice including breast feeding,... and I am still a feminist.

Feb. 22 2011 12:09 PM

The idea that we need a study to tell us that breast feeding is preferable to the corporate-made formulas, then we obviously ddn't get enough breast milk as babies.

Feb. 22 2011 12:05 PM
JENNIFER from new jersey

I hated breastfeeding. I couldn't take an aspirin, couldn't eat chocolate, broccoli, cauliflower, garlic, lettuce, cheese, the list went on and on, and of course god forbid i drank a glass of wine. i felt like a a cow--a cow in a minimum security prison, frankly. i was happy to switch to bottle feeding, and my son took to it with great appreciation as well.

FYI: My son was breastfed and still developed ear infections and asthma. My second, a girl, was not breastfed and had none of those problems.

the important thing for me as a loving, connected, real, honest, in the trenches, stay at home for 16 years mom was eye contact, lots of cuddling, listening, listening, listening, and really, really tuning in to my children, their emotional state, and their world. it meant a lot more to my kids that i got on the floor and played hot wheels or dolls, and not that i breastfed or not.

just sayin'!

Feb. 22 2011 12:04 PM

As Sophia states: there are benefits to the mother, another being an endorphin rush at each feeding. What better way to stay zen with a crying baby!

And as Leigh Anne links to: cost. I can feed myself a healthy, hearty diet and then breastfeed a baby at a fraction of the cost of formula.

Feb. 22 2011 12:03 PM
Denise from NJ

What about benefits for the mother such a reduced rates of certain cancers? Furthermore, psychological bonding for the mother, not just the baby, during the tough "baby blues" months post partum? What about weight loss and advancing the healing and contracting of the post partum uterus?? There are a great many reasons why breastfeeding should be supported by our health care providers as well as by our employers.

Feb. 22 2011 12:03 PM
Nic from Connecticut

Well said Ken from Little Neck. Mothers should be able to choose how they feed their children. But no one wants to see is breastfeeding rights taken away, ie - breastfeeding in public, pumping at work. Perhaps pro-breastfeeding "militants" inflate the benefits of breastfeeding to protect hard fought rights.

Feb. 22 2011 12:01 PM
a g from n j

at this stage- to even think that there is a disccussion to entertain is insane- this is a flat earth society issue- what is of cows is for cows not us- or-our kids

Feb. 22 2011 12:00 PM
Barbara from nyc

No one seems to talk about the ease and economy of breasrfeeding. For the lazy and procrastinators, there's nothing better! I never had to buy formula or boil a bottle.

But an important factor also was that I never had to pump because I had up to a year to go back to work, and I was able to go back part time, which allowed me to continue breast feeding.

For me and my kids, it was the best choice.

Feb. 22 2011 12:00 PM
michael from brooklyn

your question about whether or not she was a mother is important, cause this honestly just sounds like her trying to justify her personal decisions with sketchy science.

Feb. 22 2011 12:00 PM
Ellen Malmon from CT

The problem for those of us who want to breastfeed and then work--it is so difficult to combine the two that public policies can make a difference. It's easier to argue (with the male lawmakers) that it's scientifically healthier so women should be supported in breastfeeding - opposed to it being a mere choice--our simply wanting to do what comes naturally.

Feb. 22 2011 11:59 AM
Carolyn Krouse from NYC

My two oldest had bottles. My third was breast fed. The youngest was male, has asthma now, has more gastric problems than the other two, and is not in as good health. He has weight problems that the other two do not have. He was prone to ear infections during his earliest years. No physical gain there. Also no emotional gain. He's not involved with us.

Feb. 22 2011 11:59 AM

I breastfeed because it is easier and a lot of moms breastfeed because it is cheaper. Not all moms breastfeed because they think it is best for the baby.
Formula also has environmental contaminants and so does any water mixed in with it.

Feb. 22 2011 11:58 AM
Shana from Clinton Hill, Brooklyn

I chose to breastfeed for many reasons. It's cost effective, perfectly normal, healthy thing to do. The only benefit that comes from formula is putting money in the hands of corporations. I can understand that many women have no other choice because of work and/or health reasons and they should never be made to feel bad because we live in a society that does indeed encourage women to rush back to work before they are ready and looks down on public breastfeeding. But acting as though telling mothers breatfeeding is a better choice is harmful to them is ridiculous. If so many women were being pressured into it despite not wanting to, there would be a whole lot more women breastfeeding than what actually exist in the real world.

Feb. 22 2011 11:58 AM
dboy from nyc

How can something as natural and fundamental as breast feeding be even slightly less than a chemical/processed food approximation???

Feb. 22 2011 11:58 AM
BARBARA from Manhattan

In addition to the universal feeling the breast was best for our children - I am going back to the 70's - we were also outraged that Neslie and other formula companies were going out to the third world and selling formula to women who could not read the instructions, provide clean water to mix it with and could not afford enough formula to supply the nutriments supplied by natural breast feeding.
We were enjoying our babies AND making a political statement!

Feb. 22 2011 11:58 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

Every time we let our brains (and politics) overcome our acceptance of our own animal-like nature, we get into trouble.

We didn't evolve from computers; we evolved from the natural world, and millions of years of evolution is probably a better predictor of what we should to than an academic!

Feb. 22 2011 11:57 AM
jerry from ny

is she funded by the baby formula industry?

Feb. 22 2011 11:57 AM
Edward from NJ

Baby formula is being researched and improved all the time. It's entirely possible, if not likely, that someday formula will be provably "better" than breast milk from a medical standpoint.

Feb. 22 2011 11:57 AM
Ana Maria

Well some of us are sure that most million mothers in the third world will never make the studies or the books. Such narrow mind, that there is need to proof...population has been growing. Now it will be interesting to study for example if the children that are now having strokes from 5 to 14 (only in US of course) were breastfed. Or the people that are living longer. Now there should be a study where the ingredients come from to make (awful) formulas. For the record I never breastfed due to youth and ignorance, but study biology and now I know why my son was so sick in childhood, so there is MY evidence!

Feb. 22 2011 11:56 AM

Thanks for kicking off this discussion, Mike! I had a few seconds of panic when I heard this discussion, thinking there'd be some kind of bias against breast feeding. I'm glad you're scoring good points. This may not convert me but I can appreciate the logical clinical point of view.

Feb. 22 2011 11:56 AM
newyorkita from nyc

Why do we have to hear one more doubt cast on the importance of a woman in her baby's life? If breast is not best, it follows that women don't really need to breast feed, and breastfeeders don't need any special considerations when it comes to maternity leave and lactation rights in public spaces. Wouldn't it be better to do a study on what lactating women could do to supplement their breast milk, or what non-breast-feeders should do to make up for whatever they aren't giving their babies when they're formula-feeding?

Feb. 22 2011 11:56 AM
ml from inwood

If you read about the chemistry of breast milk, it seems obvious that it's better. Initially the milk comes out in a spray of thin milk to quench thirst, then it becomes thicker and creamier and full of nutrients. It contains a natural appetite suppressant after a certain amount of time. Will chemists ever be able to duplicate this sophistication? All of this and has anyone ever heard of a baby allergic to its mother's milk?

Feb. 22 2011 11:56 AM
Anna D. from Garden City, NY

What about bottle feeding with breast milk? I know many women nowadays - working mothers specifically don't have the time to nurse so they pump.

Feb. 22 2011 11:55 AM
jerry from ny

She's crazy. This lady just trying to sell books. She's spinning her view point like what all polition do.

Feb. 22 2011 11:55 AM
kelly from brooklyn

this woman has no argument. she just sounds angry about breastfeeding. get over yourself my dear.

Feb. 22 2011 11:54 AM
Tim from NJ

Could your guest define "better outcomes" more specifically?

Feb. 22 2011 11:54 AM

Yes, breast is normal. Except I have a friend who has a 3 year old, and that boob is used more like a pacifier. It's annoying to see the boob pop out whenever and where ever. I think after the teeth have come in it's time to stop--or be more discreet!

Feb. 22 2011 11:54 AM
Georgie from Michigan

Why don't you use women who wanted to breastfeed, but couldn't as your formula controls?

Feb. 22 2011 11:53 AM
Peter from Brooklyn

Last time I checked humans are MAMmals. Baby formula is a bio-chemistry experiment. This is a silly discussion. Really. Nobody should pressure anyone to do anything with their bodies.

Feb. 22 2011 11:52 AM
Ken from Little Neck

The militancy on the pro and anti-breast feeding sides frankly baffles me. I go back to what our pediatrician said the first time we met him. He fully supports breast feeding because of the medical benefits, but said that he himself was 100% bottle fed and he turned out just fine. In other words, do what works for you and your child. We chose to breastfeed because it's cheaper and easier than dealing with bottles and formula, but it wasn't an ideological decision in the slightest. We have many friends with children, some breast fed, some bottle fed, and all the children have turned out fine.

Feb. 22 2011 11:51 AM

What about the benefit for the mother? I'm thinking in particular about being able to "loose the baby weight" and ability to bond with the child?

Feb. 22 2011 11:51 AM
Leigh Anne from New York, NY

Feb. 22 2011 11:50 AM
Leigh Anne O'Connor from New York, NY

Breast is not best - it is simply NORMAL. It is the way we are designed to feed our babies. We are mammals - breasts are mammary glands. Feeding something other than the food designed for our babies holds risks.

Feb. 22 2011 11:43 AM
Sophie from Manhattan

This seems like the same argument that Hanna Rosin put forward a year or so ago and that was dismissed by health experts who said that she had skimmed and cherry picked the evidence to support her contention that breastfeeding keeps women down. I agree with all of KJ's points above. In Canada they are actually calling for the establishment of more human milk banks and a rewording of the health recommendations to state that donor milk is preferable to formula if the mother is unable to breastfeed (which is actually quite rare). Mothers need more support for breastfeeding including longer maternity leave, more flexible work & child care options (working from home, bringing babies to work, on-site child care that would allow moms to take nursing breaks, more flexible p/t options for BOTH parents, etc.). It is also of note that breastfeeding--and the right to do so--was embraced by the women's movement in the 60's and 70's, as women rightfully took back what had been denied to them by decades of male medical establishment. Michelle Obama should be commended for supporting breastfeeding.

Feb. 22 2011 10:55 AM
a g from n j

to first entry: false choice dairy is for cows not kids [cow juice is "udder'ly" wrong]

Feb. 22 2011 09:46 AM
KJ from NJ

Breastmilk IS best. There is no debate about this. Ideally the breastmilk will come directly from Mom. But that isn't always feasible. However, the problem is NOT breastfeeding advocacy - it's that there is so little support for women's multiple roles in our society. When you look at what is better for Mom's recovery and baby's well-being, maternity leaves are scandalously short in most cases, and "support" for pumping moms is usually cursory at best. Women need MORE support, NOT less. I truly believe more moms would breastfeed and/or pump if they had more support etc. And even if moms breastfeed for a few weeks/months longer, that benefits not only that mom and baby, but also society (lower healthcare costs, possible lower rates of aggression), employers (lower healthcare costs, less absenteeism from work), etc. I also believe that people (women especially) who try to claim breastfeeding isn't good for both mother and baby (as long as Mom's/Baby's needs are supported!) generally have personal guilt/anger reasons for it - maybe they didn't breastfeed and feel guilty about it, or felt they couldn't have children at all otherwise they wouldn't be taken seriously at their jobs, etc. Which again, returns to my point that ALL of women's roles (and men's too, by extension) need to be respected and supported in our society. Generally speaking, that isn't the case.

Feb. 22 2011 09:30 AM
Beautiful Bottle Family

Is this about the breast or the milk from it?

I'll bet the kid is better off in all ways drinking bottled farm animal milk from a bonding, loving caretaker than human milk served up by a robot (or nasty nanny).

So long as the parents are not ignorant and are properly caring for their children (and farm animals), I assume this "breast is best" is at least partly an exercise in social engineering, to make sure Moms are spending enough time with their children to bond. Which is a good idea but doing so using this trick diminishes the public's respect for science, and rightly so.

Feb. 22 2011 09:02 AM

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