Saturday, April 26, 2014

Breastfeeding: Why the Debate Is (Or Should Be) Over (First Reader)

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. 


  1. Anna,
    I completely agree! There should be more evidence-based research on the composition of breast milk/feeding as this would greatly lean the debate in one direction. Although it is a personal choice among mothers, some mothers have other issues influencing the decision to breast feed/not breast feed. Instead of consistently berating mothers for their choices, the health aspect should definitely be taken into account.
    Breastfeeding seems to have become a sort of taboo subject; which is a shame since it is such a natural and long existing idea. Women are even looked down upon for breast feeding in public. (I'm sure this is another debate in it's entirety.)
    People are always going to be told what is right and what is wrong, but the most important factor lies in the mother's choice. I think the modern mother always wants to choose what is best for her child, but sometimes what is best may not always work. However, education should always be presented to new mothers and families as making an informed decision is always better than one of ignorance.

  2. I agree as well to this post. More research needs to be done if this issue around breastfeeding is ever to aquire an actual answer. I agree that choice is the mothers decision on whether or not she wants to breast feed or not breast feed if she can or cannot. I do not feel that mothers should be judged for what they think is going to best for them and their child. I have always heard that breastfeeding is a topic that most do not want to discuss, however I have recently witnessed another issue some people seem to have with mothers and breastfeeding. I had a coworker who used a breast pump. Another coworker had an issue with her using the pump and not staying home with her child to actually breast feed her child. I was surprised that someone would have an issue with this, since most of the time people have issues with mothers breastfeeding in public. Really I would have thought that we would have been past judging people on what is natural. It is all about the mothers choice and it seems more and more that these choices are made for the mothers. Informed decisions need to be made by the mother and this information needs to be provided to the mothers because this is their decision.