Study in Norway leads to controversial media headlines ‘Breast no better than formula’
A new study that casts doubts on the benefits of breast milk over formula has sparked fierce debate among British experts.
The Norwegian study, which followed 180 pregnant women, suggests that breastfed babies are healthier because of hormonal conditions in the womb rather than because they’ve been fed on their mother’s milk. The research found that high levels of male hormones in the womb may affect the flow of nutrients to the baby.
Higher levels of male hormones may also affect the development of glandular breast tissue, potentially making it harder for mums to breastfeed effectively. The research concludes that the benefits of breast milk over formula may have been exaggerated.
Lead researcher Professor Sven Carlsen from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology told the BBC:
“Basically a mother who finds she has difficulty shouldn’t feel guilty – it probably is just the way it is, and her baby will not suffer for being fed formula milk.
“A mother should do what makes her happy,” he added.
However, British experts have angrily dismissed many of the study’s claims.
Professor Charlotte Wright, spokesperson for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, told the Telegraph, “This is irresponsible and overblown.”
She added, “It is very puzzling that there is no mention of prevention of infection and there is a significant reduction on the risk of infection with breastfeeding.
“Women should remember that we were not designed to be bottle fed, formula is an artificial alternative.”
Professor Ashley Grossman of the Centre for Endocrinology at Barts in London found the suggestion that male hormones influence the ability to feed interesting.
"We are learning more and more about how the environment of the womb may influence a child's future development,” he told the BBC. “This is really where it's all happening, and it has a much greater impact than whether or not a child is breastfed or not."
In Britain the Department of Health recommends that all babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months.
“Research indicates breast milk gives babies all the nutrients they need for the first six months of life and helps protect them from infection and diseases such as gastro-intestinal infections, ear infections, urine infections, eczema and obesity in later childhood,” it states.
“Breastfeeding provides health benefits for mothers too. It can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, breast cancer and weak bones later in life.”
MFM contacted UNICEF’s Baby Friendly Initiative to get its take on the story:
“The findings of this small study are of interest and may warrant further investigation. However, the claims made in relation to these findings do not account for the large differences in breastfeeding rates between countries, with some having 99% of mothers successfully breastfeeding. They are also contradicted by the large body of evidence, which shows that levels of successful breastfeeding can be increased by a range of improved support interventions. “The claims made relating to the health outcomes of breastfeeding do not account for the response found in many studies, which show that babies breastfed exclusively or for longer periods have the best overall outcomes. “The study does not account for or tally with the known mechanisms for how breastmilk protects against illness. For example, breast milk contains a range of anti-infective properties including immunoglobulins, white cells, anti-inflammatory components, enzymes and non-antibody factors such as lactoferrin and the bifidus factor. “The body of evidence for the benefits of breastfeeding is very large and comes from a wide range of studies into many different illnesses, carried out by numerous researchers in many different universities. It remains the case that the evidence for the advantages of breastfeeding is strong.”
I totally agree with Fran-I do think breastfeeding is best-but those who can't or choose not to should not be made to feel inferior.
I breastfed my first-he has terrible eczema,didn't breastfeed the second-he doesn't
There will always be debates in parenthood,especially motherhood-each to their own I say!!
this is an example of "bad science": claiming conclusions that the study didn't actually prove. What the study said was that the flow of nutrients in the womb to the foetus of babies depended on levels of male hormone present in pregnancy. That is NOT the same as "artificial formula is just as good as breastmilk". The professor's comment that "Basically a mother who finds she has difficulty shouldn’t feel guilty – it probably is just the way it is, and her baby will not suffer for being fed formula milk" shows an inherent bias in the research (it would be interesting to see who finded the study- a milk manufacturer perhaps?).
What number of subjects did the study consult? What measures of "healthiness" did they use? Were the researchers "blinded" to whether the mums breastfed or not? Was there a crossover technique employed? In other words, is there actually ANY scientific rigour to this story? Or just a lot of sensationalist headlines?
The thing that does women the greatest disservice is the pressure to give up breastfeeding if it's difficult because "it's probably just the way it is". Balderdash. The human species would have given up the ghost millenia ago if failing to breastfeed was "just the way it is". What women finding it difficult need is more information, more access to training (so they can have more realistic expectations), more access to qualified support (breastfeeding counsellors, Baby Friendly Initiative midwives and hospitals), good role models (celebrity breastfeeding mums) and more support in general. Not some Scandinavian man saying "well you were never going to cut it anyway, so just go for the bottle".
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