Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Balancing Lactivism

Unlike some lactivists, I do recognize the need for formula in some cases. Cases like Matt's. His wife died that day after having their beautiful daughter Madeline. Madeline is six weeks old now, but she was born seven weeks early. Because of Liz's (mother) death, Madeline receives formula, and not the stuff in a big can. She takes that preemie special stuff. Anyway, Matt is obviously still grieving Liz's death, and then he sees today the reports on breastfed babies and increased intelligence. Needless to say, he was upset.

All of this begs the question-- at what point does the "other" aspects of breastfeeding (attention, talking, contact, etc) influence the outcome of child development as much as the milk and its properties? How much of this new study is actually the result of nurture?

I haven't had time to look in to the study as deeply as I would like, but Breastfeeding 1-2-3 pulled this information, which I think is particularly relevent.

MSNBC quotes researcher Dr. Michael Kramer from McGill University in Montreal, Canada:

“It could even be that because breast-feeding takes longer, the mother is interacting more with the baby, talking with the baby, soothing the baby,” he said. “It could be an emotional thing. It could be a physical thing. Or it could be a hormone or something else in the milk that’s absorbed by the baby.”

So-- is it nurture? The milk? Both?

Also, one thing that frustrates me... why in the hell are we so stuck on proving the benefits of breastmilk versus the harms or risks of formula? It annoys me to no end. Oh, and why are we so squeemish about human milk, but we drink and use cow's milk like it is water? Grrr... I'll end my tangent rant now!


KaritaG said...

Just my two cents from working with lots of babies - nursed and formula-fed - and nannying for a lady who did extensive research on the benefits/detriments of both.
First of all, you have to remember that some of it is nurture not only in the aspect you pointed out (increased time, talking, etc.) but also that babies who are nursed in the US tend to be in a higher socio-economic demographic, meaning they have better access to nutrition, health care, education, etc. All of which can impact intelligence.

Also, it's my understanding that the intelligence benefits are not necessarily always statistically significant (depending on which study you read) and that some studies have shown no increase in intelligence at all.

I think ultimately it all goes back to, you should be nursing or not nursing because it works for you/your baby, not because you see nursing as some magical thing that's going to solve all the world's problems, ya know?! For every kid that's super smart that was nursed, there's another whose super smart that wasn't...for every kid that wasn't nursed with allergies, there's a kid who was nursed who has them too.

I just really don't think we know enough about human physiology at this point to pin anything on nursing or not nursing, alone. We know enough to know that nursing is preferable, and some of the reasons why, but it's my understanding that a lot of the other research is pretty conflicting, especially when you try to narrow it down to only the nursing variable.

KaritaG said...

Oops, I just remembered Amari has allergies. THAT WAS NOT A SHOT AT YOU! I actually was thinking of myself and my horrible allergies and my having not been nursed. :)

Maria said...

Dang it. I wrote a big response and stupid internet didn't post it.

Basically-- I wasn't offended. Amari has seasonal allergies but is not allergic to any foods. I also have seasonal allergies, as does Kevin, so he was doomed from the start there.

Your argument re: breastfeeding though brings me back to why are we fixated on proving the benefits of breastfeeding over the risks of formula feeding? Why are we trying to defend what is natural rather than showing the effect of what is not. Most studies end up with headlines saying Breastfeeding is XXX rather than Formula fed babies YYY. Even if the point is to keep BF in the front of people's minds, the constant "need" to prove the benefits of doing what is normal is frustrating to me. BTW-- BF rates are rising, with african american and hispanic populations showing the greatest increase. What that means in the future? Who knows.

KaritaG said...

I think the point is to "market" breastfeeding as a positive thing, since for a long time it was thought of as okay if you do, or okay if you don't. However, I see your point and agree with it. I also think that all of the "marketing" serves to make mothers who don't nurse for whatever reason, or men like Matt who are in a situation where it's not possible, feel extraordinarily guilty and like they are depriving their child in some horrific way, while the people who are nursing probably would nurse regardless of the headlines. Sort of preaching to the choir, did that make sense?

Jax said...

Whoa. Matt's blog is super sad. I got all drawn into it, though... Wow. I have little to no input on the actual topic of formula vs breastmilk..but I was formula-fed for some medical reason (dont have a clue why) and I'm very poorly adjusted and a leetle crazy. ;) Kidding. But, seriously...Matt's blog. Whoa.

KaritaG said...

Oh, and I hope rates continue to rise, but I would be interested in seeing the economics of the people where the rates are increasing as opposed to just the racial stuff. I only say that because I waited tables for a long time, and saw many a career waitress/line cook who couldn't nurse or pump, simply because you just CAN'T stop what you are doing in the middle of the dinner rush. And when my mom was a secretary for a long time, she (not that it mattered, because we were big, but my point is that it was company policy) couldn't leave her desk for 30 minutes every two hours to pump, because it was her job to answer phones. Sorry I keep leaving long comments. I just think the economic thing is often overlooked, as in, many women in low-paying jobs simply can't afford to lose the job they have, and often those low-paying jobs are not jobs that are conducive to nursing/pumping. Which brings me to another whole topic - legislation! So I'll shut up now so this doesn't get too cluttered.

Peggy W said...

I agree, folk: too many variables to make many conclusions. I loved breast feeding my two babies (30 and 28 years ago.) I wasn't working so I didn't have many hassles at all with it. In some ways, it removed their dad from the intimate contact which was not a positive thing. We could have compensated for this but were not savvy enough. There's always something new that emerges as the year's go by. I tell my kids that our flaws will just provide good fodder for their own therapists!

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