by West Valley Medical Center

Everyone has an opinion about whether you should breastfeed. If you buy formula at the drugstore, you might get the side-eye from somebody. Breastfeeding in public? Expect stares.

Understanding the benefits of breastfeeding will help you navigate this tricky topic.

There are staunch advocates on both sides: Moms who can’t imagine using formula and moms who can’t imagine breastfeeding.

It’s ultimately up to you and your partner whether to breastfeed your baby, so it helps to know the latest facts.

Some of the benefits of breastfeeding include:

  • Breast milk contains the nutrients and antibodies your baby needs to grow
  • Breast milk helps protect your baby against health conditions such as obesity, asthma and type 2 diabetes
  • Oh yeah, and it’s pretty much free

Source: US Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health

Benefits of Breastfeeding May Be Exaggerated?

A new study has been making waves this winter. It found that “the impact of breastfeeding on child wellbeing may be overstated,” according to a February 2014 article published in Social Science and Medicine.

The research based its conclusion on a study of siblings. One sibling was breast fed. The other was not. The study measured the long-term outcomes for eleven health factors, including BMI, asthma, hyperactivity, parental attachment, behavior and intelligence.

Researchers concluded that there were no significant differences in health for the kids who were fed breast milk and those who were fed formula. Asthma was the only exception, and the study found that this condition was more common in children who were breastfed.

The reason is that it’s not the breastfeeding that helps, but rather the factors that allow women to breastfeed in the first place, like having a higher income, being married, having health insurance and more flexibility to stay home with the child.

Counterpoint: The Validity of That Study Has Been Overstated

On the other hand, some experts are stepping up to say wait a minute. That study doesn’t tell the whole story.

The US National Library of Medicine (NLM) says that this study “does not alter the current body of research, which has shown the beneficial effects of breastfeeding.”

The NLM contends that the study did not take into account factors that influence a mother’s decision to breastfeed one child but not another: Maybe the other sibling couldn’t breastfeed. Plus, the study failed to measure other important health factors such as allergies and diabetes. And breastfeeding benefits moms as well by reducing their risk of getting breast and ovarian cancer.

The organization ultimately concludes that breastfeeding is still the best option, but women who cannot breastfeed should not be stigmatized.

The experts still say:

Babies should be fed exclusively with breast milk for the first 6 months of life. Then start introducing solid foods. Source: American Academy of Pediatrics.

Breast milk is the perfect food for newborns. Feeding should start within an hour after birth and continue up to age 2 or beyond. Source: World Health Organization

CDC says it is committed to working toward an increase in US mothers’ breastfeeding rates as well as to promote the best breastfeeding practices in an effort to improve public health. Source: US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Bottom Line: The Choice to Breastfeed or Formula Feed is Personal

Before you decide whether or not to breastfeed, talk to your doctor to see what she recommends based on your health status and your lifestyle.

Some common reasons women choose to breastfeed include:

  • The ability to take maternity leave
  • Easy milk production
  • The cost of formula

For other women, breastfeeding is very difficult.

Not all women are able to take time off of work to commit to breastfeeding. And while some women are able to pump breast milk while at work, others are not. For others, formula feeding the only viable option.

Making an informed choice can give you peace of mind and help pick the best option for you and your baby.