I was just looking over a 2013 meta-analysis on the long term benefits of breastfeeding. It was done by the World Health Organization so I know I can trust the results. Two things struck me. One, how few quality studies we have on breastfeeding. The second thing that really hit me was the fact that many of these studies were looking at babies who were formula feed and babies who were breastfeed, for at least a little while. Some of the studies counted breastfeed babies who only were breastfeed for one month!
Now, I do believe that every bit of breastmilk that gets into a baby’s mouth is good, regardless of how it got there. However, if we are looking at long term health effects wouldn’t it make sense to compare formula feed babies to babies who were breastfeed for a normal amount of time for a human mammal?
That is the study I want! Babies who received only formula and babies who were breastfed for at least two years and received no formula. Ever. I bet we would see some bigger differences in long term health benefits.
Yes, there are many problems with this study. First of all, what is the normal breastfeeding pattern for a human mammal? Some people call this “normal mammal fed”. Is it one year as the American Academy of Pediatrics seems to imply. After a year it is just for fun! So not true! The World Health Organization recommends at least two years. This is much closer to what appears to be our anthropological and biological norm. Katherine Dettwyler has studied this more than anyone else. She has looked at many biological factors, comparing humans to other similar mammals, to see what seems appropriate. As you can see, two would be on the early side and one year of age unheard of.
So, problem number one, finding these babies who have been “normal mammal fed” is going to be hard. Between getting just a bit of formula at birth in the hospital or shortly thereafter, our society being suspicious of our milk supplies and formula companies exploited that as much as possible, and god forbid, seeing us nursing in public, going back to work, and the perceived perversity of nursing an older baby, finding babies who nursed for at least two years and NEVER had formula will be hard.
Also, do people really want to know this? Do we really want to know what is best for our babies, really best for all of us for so many reasons, is to nurse for over two years?
Finally, no one who has any kind of money to fund such a study cares about this. You think the rich formula companies are going to pay for this? No way! They know that a study like this could cripple their market and their profits.
Bottom line, there is far more money to be made if our society is unhealthy. And guess who is paying for all of this extra cost? You and me. Please breastfed.