Soon after writing my last post, my brain was working too hard and I sent a few of my girlfriends this message:
Sooo here’s the discussion Bo and I are having tonight: My super idea on how to get rich! We have identical twins, exclusively breastfeed one and exclusively formula feed the other–tada! Our own Twin Study! Then I monetize my blog and write about it. And who wouldn’t want to read that? Am I right?!
Of course, we would want our Twin Study to be ethical–and it’s only ethical if we believe formula is just as good as breastmilk. So I asked Bo, “All things being equal, do you believe breastmilk is more beneficial than formula?” And he replied that yes, he did believe that. I agreed with him. Then I asked him, “Okay, so all things being equal, do you believe a baby who is exclusively breastfed will have a statistically significant advantage over a formula-fed baby?” To which he replied that no, he did not believe that. And again, I agreed with him. After all, neither one of us was breastfed and, um, we’re freaking awesome. This left both of us standing in the kitchen, scratching our heads. So when I messaged my girlfriends (who, by the way, fed their babies in all different kinds of ways), I asked them:
What do you think? If I believe exclusive breastfeeding is best, then do I honestly believe there’s nothing wrong with formula? I fought like hell for the first several months to continue breastfeeding, but why would I do that if I genuinely believe that in 5 years I won’t be able to tell a difference between my child (who had breastmilk and some formula), a child who only had breastmilk, and a child who only had formula? Can I really believe that breastmilk is the best choice and also believe that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with choosing formula? And if I do, which I think do, is that noncommittal or contradictory?
Don’t get me wrong; I love what our breastfeeding relationship became and I’m glad we did, and continue to do, it. I believe in it. But while I was writing my recent blog post, I started thinking: why do I believe in it so much? I think it’s good to question one’s beliefs, to know why something means a lot to you (if it does). So it’s not that I was doubtful about my choice, or doubtful that I had done the best thing I could for my baby. I had just never given this particular aspect of it much thought. And I needed to give it some thought; I needed for it to make sense in my head. My girlfriends replied with a variety of answers that included information on the nutrition and antibodies contained in breastmilk, the easy digestion of breastmilk, the psychological benefits of breastfeeding, the health benefits to the nursing mom, and the simplicity of breastfeeding. But those who had breastfed one and not another, or who had not breastfed at all, also pointed out that they couldn’t tell the difference between their older children who had been formula-fed, versus those who had been breastfed. One of the moms who had exclusively formula-fed pointed out how healthy her son was (my breastfed baby has had more illnesses in his 18-months of life than her 10-year-old son who was exclusively formula-fed). One of my girlfriends (who mostly breastfed and occasionally had to supplement with formula) pointed out that “kids who are breastfed are often being raised in wealthier families, and wealth and class is more strongly correlated with outcomes related to obesity, intellectual ability, and overall successful outcomes.” The same friend also directed me to The Case Against Breastfeeding, in which Hanna Rosin likens the controversy between formula-feeding and breastfeeding moms to “the Crips and the Bloods.” A breastfeeding mom herself, Rosin took the time to research why she was breastfeeding. Why was it the better choice? What she found was that, while studies have shown modest benefits from breastfeeding, those benefits are nowhere near as astounding as what the Internet might lead one to believe. She pointed out that since, ethically, researchers cannot direct mothers to either breastfeed or formula-feed, the population isn’t randomly divided. While breastfeeding is on the rise in the U.S., “the numbers are much higher among women who are white, older, and educated; a woman who attended college, for instance, is roughly twice as likely to nurse for six months” (Rosin). Race, age, and level of education correlate with overall health and IQ. Given those facts, many breastfeeding vs. formula-feeding studies are flawed and inconclusive. Rosin says,
…the basic pattern became obvious: the 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.
And that, I can agree with. It is maybe a little better. That is why I chose breastfeeding, that is why I continue to choose breastfeeding, and that is why I will choose breastfeeding in the future. I want better, even just a little better, for my children. It’s the best I can do. (Like this post? Make sure to check out parts 1, 2 & 3 of Feed Your Baby!)