The need for further research into the composition of breast milk, its physiological effects on the development of infants, and its potential long-term health benefits seems to be the overarching theme of this week’s readings.
The authors of these blogs make clear this necessity for more research by addressing a study by Colen and Ramey that was a bit too presumptuous in its conclusion that the benefits of breastfeeding are overstated. The problem with that conclusion (besides the fact that crucial data was left out of the study altogether) is that it was made based on a fairly small subset of their sample made up of sibling pairs in which one was breastfed and the other was not. Using their entire sample, there actually was a positive correlation between breastfeeding and the health outcomes they measured.
It seems that the literature on the subject of breastfeeding/breast milk and the way these studies are reported in the media is only effectively confusing mothers who are trying to make the healthiest, most educated decisions possible for their babies. On the one hand, there are women who may no longer see the need for breastfeeding because of studies like Colen and Ramey’s that devalue the possible long term benefits of breastfeeding without even mentioning its well-established short term benefits. On the other hand, there may be women who go to such extremes as to purchase breast milk online from an unknown donor because of enthusiastic reporting on the advantages of breastfeeding. I agree with all of these authors in that more research is needed in order to move past the argument of whether or not breastfeeding has health benefits for babies and mothers (because it does) and learn more about how variation in its composition, its synthesis, and the volume that is consumed by infants produces variation in physiological functioning.