As you know, I am a huge advocate for breastfeeding your new baby. But, with that being said I also know that there are different circumstances for each mother and baby and that some new mothers either choose to breast feed for a short period of time or not at all. I always talk to the mothers about making their own choice, and to not feel they are being judged by anyone.
But many mothers are concerned about not breastfeeding and the long term implications for their baby. They feel “guilty” if they choose not to breastfeed or if they in fact want to breast feed and are unable to for some reason. I assure them that infant formulas continue to be improved upon and now contain DHA, ARA and oligosacharides that are found in breast milk. Formula has safely been used for many years and that they themselves may have been a formula fed baby (you usually don’t even know!).
So… I am always interested in studies related to breastfeeding. There are good studies that continue to the show the many benefits to breastfeeding, including lower the risk of allergies, ear infections and SIDS. It is also known that breast feeding helps build a child’s immune system. Parents often ask “if I breast feed for X number of days or weeks is that enough?”. I have not seen any data to quantitate a simple answer to that question.
Several years ago it was thought that babies who were breastfed had a higher IQ (by several points), and this was later found not to be the case. It seems that a child’s IQ is actually better explained by long term factors such as family background, genetics and education.
The impact of breast feeding on cognitive abilities continues to be studied and debated. A new study just released in the April issue of Pediatrics looked at 8,000 families and did not show a statistically significant difference in cognitive ability at ages 3 or 5 years between those babies that were breastfed for 6 months and formula fed babies. They also looked at the relationship between breastfed and formula fed babies and parent rated hyperactivity scores. They found lower parent rated hyperactivity scores for 3 year olds only, but those benefits were not maintained in the long term. Again, much of this behavior may be based on genetics and environment.
Bottom line in my opinion…..adequate nutrition for your baby is the most important factor. Whether that is breast or bottle is up to each mother, and maternal well-being and feelings of happiness are so important in the first few months of an infant’s life.