Category: Breastfeeding

On your breast behaviour

While breastfeeding is of clear benefit to babies in terms of providing them with efficient and wholesome nutrition, the idea that it also stimulates cognitive and behavioural development does not currently enjoy robust empirical support. Nonetheless, this lack of empirical evidence hasn’t prevented some advocacy groups from continuing to make such assertions. Therefore, when I saw the headline in Monday’s Guardian“Breastfeeding leads to better behaviour in children, researchers claim” – I immediately had a sense of foreboding.

First of all, determining the effects of breastfeeding on a child’s subsequent behavioural development is a devilishly difficult research challenge: for one thing, it is simply not the case that research methods used to establish biomedical realities (such as improved nutritional health) can be deployed in a straightforward manner to also examine behavioural outcomes (such as improved childhood behaviour). Secondly, previous studies have by and large been extremely ambiguous and often highly controversial, which does not inspire confidence. And thirdly, from a sociocultural perspective, arguments about breastfeeding seem very quickly to descend into arguments about morality and/or social class, in which bottle-feeding mothers are more or less accused of child neglect. Given these concerns, my own view is that researchers need to be extremely sure about their methods before making strong claims about non-nutritional benefits of breastfeeding. As several methodological problems plague this area of research, all of which seem to emerge again and again and again, a simple question arose. Would this study be any different? Continue reading “On your breast behaviour”

Breast milk, genes, and IQ

Few commercially produced health products offer as many benefits. According to popular—and medical—opinion, human breast milk is more or less a superdrug. Scientists agree that breast fed infants end up better nourished than formula-fed counterparts, are less likely to become obese, suffer less diarrhea, and have stronger immune systems. It is no surprise that groups such as the World Health Organization refer to breast milk as the “perfect food”.

As well as the physical health benefits, there is little doubt but that breast feeding strikes a chord with parents who are generally concerned about the impact of technology on planet Earth. Rather than invest money in market-based pharmaceutical or agriscience products, parents can use breast milk to provide natural and ethical sustenance to their children. Breast milk springs directly from nature, untouched by human hands. It advertises the value of the (naked) human body and of femininity, and benefits poor as well as rich families. In other words, not only is it nutritionally awesome, but fashionably radical and politically correct as well. Continue reading “Breast milk, genes, and IQ”

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