The breastfeeding debate—should you or shouldn’t you?—seems to crop up every few years and never answers the question definitively. Instead, what usually results is finger wagging in the direction of the “bad mothers” who do/don’t breastfeed (depending on whichever way the wind is blowing at the time).
The Colen and Ramey article under consideration doesn’t appear to add anything new to the debate. The associations they drew between the protective significance of breast milk against such factors as obesity and hyperactivity were already documented in the literature. What makes their article slightly different from previous ones were the conclusions they drew from comparisons between siblings, which essentially negated these protective factors—a conclusion that is likely overblown.
I’m not much surprised that the article was “pitched” in this way. In the same way that so-called pageview journalism has become a means of attracting an abundance of online readers (usually at the cost of quality reporting), so Colen and Ramey’s addition to the literature on breastfeeding has largely been disseminated to the public in the most headline-grabbing means as possible. It’s similar to the way genetics studies used to be reported when every minor linkage of a gene to a behavior would be front-page news. The genetics community has gotten smarter about the way they present their findings, emphasizing the combined effects of genes rather a single gene for every behavior. Melanie Martin’s blog post suggests a similar solution. Studying the composition of breast milk and the additive effects of breastfeeding for both the baby and the mother’s health would be more beneficial than the endless debate over whether or not mothers should breastfeed at all. The information available now only serves to muddy the waters for mothers when it should be helping them to make informed decisions.