The Great Breast-Feeding Guilt Trip

Article excerpt

Byline: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

A new study casts doubt on breast milk's supposed advantages--so why are mothers still being made to feel awful about feeding their kids formula?

At a neighborhood children's fair this month, a friend who had just had her third child six weeks earlier ran into another mother.

"Are you breast-feeding?" the woman immediately asked my friend. My friend answered that she was not, for a medical reason. The other woman expressed her horror. And 15 minutes later, she found my friend once more.

"I can swing by your house and drop off some breast milk," she offered.

Stunned, my friend thanked her, but told her it would not be necessary.

In the era of competitive parenting, my friend is among many mothers socially shunned for offering her children FDA-approved formula. Public policy to encourage breast-feeding has also piled on the guilt, with New York's "Latch On NYC" urging hospitals to "restrict access to infant formula by hospital staff, tracking infant formula distribution and sharing data on formula distribution with the Health Department."

But a new research paper published by the World Health Organization reviewing the scientific evidence shows that over the long term, breast-feeding may not possess the positives often ascribed to it.

The paper opens by noting that breast-feeding "has well-established short-term benefits" before turning to the long term and finding:

a On blood pressure, "small studies provided estimates that clearly overstated the benefits" of breast-feeding.

a On cholesterol, breast-feeding "does not seem to protect against total cholesterol levels. …