The Case Against Breastfeeding

Check out Hanna Rosin’s Atlantic piece about the deep, dark gap between the rhetoric and the data on breastfeeding. It’s a classic example of how emotion can trounce facts, especially when it comes to parenting.

After all, the brain is wired to rank emotion over facts, which is why we fear airplane crashes more than heart attacks—and why we end up with a generation of yuppie women knocking themselves out to breastfeed, even if it’s not working for them or their children. It’s a reminder that whenever emotion is high, it is worth looking for research—if there is any…

“One day, while nursing my baby in my pediatrician’s office, I noticed a 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association open to an article about breast-feeding: “Conclusions: There are inconsistent associations among breastfeeding, its duration, and the risk of being overweight in young children.” Inconsistent? There I was, sitting half-naked in public for the tenth time that day, the hundredth time that month, the millionth time in my life—and the associations were inconsistent?... [T]he medical literature looks nothing like the popular literature. It shows that breast-feeding is probably, maybe, a little better; but it is far from the stampede of evidence that Sears describes. More like tiny, unsure baby steps: two forward, two back, with much meandering and bumping into walls. A couple of studies will show fewer allergies, and then the next one will turn up no difference. Same with mother-infant bonding, IQ, leukemia, cholesterol, diabetes. Even where consensus is mounting, the meta studies—reviews of existing studies—consistently complain about biases, missing evidence, and other major flaws in study design.”

I can assure you that Hanna is now knee-deep in hate mail. And love letters.

GeneralAmanda Ripley