Breastfeeding is overhyped, oversold, and overrated. So says Courtney Jung, a political science professor based at the University of Toronto, in a controversial new book based on her study of hundreds of scientific papers on the subject.
In an article on Vox, Professor Jung says she decided to breastfeed her children because she believed the “conventional wisdom surrounding breastfeeding”.Because she’s a political scientist, she also decided to try to find out how much of the conventional wisdom was true, “only to find that much of it was far removed from what scientists actually knew” to be true.
Professor Jung says she breastfed her own children, “figuring they'd reap the much-publicised benefits and be better off for it” but her research uncovered "strong evidence" that breastfeeding has "no impact" on obesity, diabetes or allergies.
“The truth is that breastfeeding research is not very good, and there's a lot we don't know,” she writes. “But here is what we do know: according to the director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, six women have to breastfeed exclusively for six months in order to prevent a single ear infection.”
She says: “There is strong evidence that breastfeeding has no impact on obesity or type 1 diabetes, asthma, allergies, dental cavities, or the following types of cancer: acute non-lymphoblastic leukaemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, central nervous system cancers, malignant germ cell tumours, juvenile bone tumours, and other solid cancers.
“The evidence of other long-term health benefits, such as reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, or Type 2 diabetes, is either weak or inconclusive.”
Professor Jung also notes that “there is no research comparing health outcomes among babies who are breastfed with babies who are fed human breast milk from a bottle”.
“There are reasons to think breastfeeding and bottle-feeding with pumped milk may not be the same thing,” she says.
“If breastfeeding protects against infection, breast milk that has been pumped, stored, refrigerated or frozen, and thawed may not.
“At any point in the process breast milk could pick up bacteria that might actually cause illness.
“If breastfeeding improves cognitive development, some experts believe it is because of intense mother-child interaction at the breast, not because of the chemical composition of human milk.”Professor Jung also argues that some women feel immense pressure to breastfeed, even when the baby isn’t getting enough milk.
The World Health Organisation currently recommends babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months and continue being breastfed until they are at least two. Hundreds of studies have proven the numerous benefit of breastfeeding.
Words: Caroline Overington