New sibling study reveals no long-term benefits from breastfeeding

New Study shows breastfeeding has no long-term benefits

It has long been accepted that breastfeeding a child has long-term positive effects, with previous studies listing slightly higher IQs and lower risks of Attention Deficit Disorder as examples. But, those studies were comparing children from different families. Ohio State sociologist Cynthia Colen began a long-term study using thousands of bottle-fed and breastfed children within the same family, anticipating more accurate information highlighting the benefits of breastfeeding. That was not what the findings showed.

The findings, taken from a span of 25 years and including data on more than 8,000 children ages 4 to 14, showed that there is essentially no long-term health benefits from breastfeeding. From WBUR:

Using nationally representative survey data from 1986 through 2010, Dr. Colen and co-author David Ramey analyzed 11 key indicators in children from ages 4 to 14. From academic scores to behavior to obesity, they found no advantages for breastfed over bottle-fed siblings. The sample included 1,773 siblings in which at least one was breastfed and at least one was not.

The discrepancies in the recent study with those in the past are attributed to the difficulty in accounting for socioeconomic elements. For example, it’s been shown that the more intelligent and wealthier a woman is, the more likely she is to breastfeed — as a result, the perceived long-term benefits of breastfeeding may have instead been just the result of the families the children were born into. The new study eliminates these “residual confounders” by comparing siblings from the same families.

It is important to note, however, that the short-term benefits of breastfeeding are still undisputed, including immunity for the baby and healthier weight for both the baby and the mother. “I’m not saying that women shouldn’t breastfeed and I’m not saying that breastfeeding is not beneficial,” Colen says. “We know moms are able to pass immunity through breast milk to babies, and that in the very short term, it makes sense biologically that this boosted immunity can protect their intestines or their lungs from infections. But this is likely to wear off fairly quickly during that first year.”

She explains that the important thing is to raise awareness and start an educated conversation. “I think we have to be honest and try to understand more about what breastfeeding can and cannot do for women and their children, and to start to expand the conversation to these larger social and economic factors that we need to address.”

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