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Study Questions Whether Breastfeeding is Better than Bottle

Update Date: Feb 28, 2014 11:44 AM EST

Researchers have repeatedly praised breastfeeding over bottled formula milk. According to these studies, breastfeeding can improve children's cognitive development as well as other variables. In a new study, researchers raised questions about whether or not breastfeeding has become overrated.

In this study, the researchers examined longitudinal data on three separate groups of children. The first group included 8,237 children, the second group involved 7,319 siblings and the last group recruited 1,773 sibling pairs in which one sibling was breastfed while the other was not. For all three populations, the researchers measured 11 factors that have been tied to breastfeeding. These factors were body mass index (BMI), obesity, asthma, hyperactivity, parental attachment, behavior compliance and academic achievements, which included vocabulary, reading, math, intelligence and scholastic competence. The researchers focused on whether or not the children were breastfed and if so, for how long.

The research team reported that when they examined the data across all families, they found that breastfeeding was indeed tied to improved results for some of the factors, which were BMI, obesity, hyperactivity, math skills, reading, vocabulary, digit recollection and scholastic competence. The team then looked at the sibling pairs and found that the benefits of breastfeeding did not seem to be as significant. The researchers did report one exception, which was that the breastfed siblings had a higher risk of asthma.

"I'm not saying breast-feeding is not beneficial, especially for boosting nutrition and immunity in newborns," Cynthia Colen, assistant professor of sociology at The Ohio State University and lead author of the study said. "But if we really want to improve maternal and child health in this country, let's also focus on things that can really do that in the long term - like subsidized day care, better maternity leave policies and more employment opportunities for low-income mothers that pay a living wage, for example."

Colen added, according to the press release, "We need to take a much more careful look at what happens past that first year of life and understand that breast-feeding might be very difficult, even untenable, for certain groups of women. Rather than placing the blame at their feet, let's be more realistic about what breast-feeding does and doesn't do."

The researchers used data from a 1979 cohort National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), which included men and women between the ages of 14 and 22. The children were born to the women in that cohort between 1986 and 2010. The children were between the ages of four and 14 during the study.

The study was published in Social Science & Medicine.

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