I watched a friend of mine breastfeeding her baby recently and couldn’t help feeling a bit of nostalgia – and maybe jealousy. OK, that sounds a little lurker McCreeperson, but watching her took me back to the days of breastfeeding my own children.
I loved breastfeeding, even though it was torture on my body for the first few weeks. Fourteen months later, I had to wean my children and myself off the joy of breastfeeding. There is just something about being able to provide for your child in a very direct way that makes you feel like whatever else you’re doing wrong, in that quiet moment with your baby in your arms, everything is going to be OK.
I also strongly believe in the health and cognitive benefits of breastfeeding. So I was intrigued by a study to come out in the journal Social Science & Medicine recently that says those benefits have been largely overstated throughout the years.
When researchers looked at the longitudinal data they found breastfed babies had better outcomes in hyperactivity, math skills, reading, vocabulary, scholastic competence and obesity. However, when the study looked only at siblings where one child was breastfed and the other was not, the difference between the two was not statistically significant.
Researchers say the results reinforce that moms with higher levels of education, higher income and more time tend to breastfeed more. Those qualities may have more to do with the positive outcomes in breastfeeding than anything found in the milk itself.
Essentially, what I got out of this study is that breast milk may not be a magic elixir, but the pattern of parenting that often leads to breastfeeding may be the key.
A similar study out of BYU said the same thing recently, showing babies who are breastfed get a mental boost because because their mothers are more likely to read to them and pay attention to their emotional cues.
In all honesty, these studies give me hope. I cannot have any more biological children, though I hope to adopt. So while I can’t breastfeed that child, I am encouraged that he or she can still receive all the benefits I believe come from nursing. It just might take a little more conscious effort.
Nursing does force mothers to slow down. It forces us to take a moment, take a breath and hold our babies close as they nurse. But the real value there is the pattern – a pattern of sacrifice for our children, a pattern of taking quiet moments to talk and read and make eye contact, a pattern of touching and holding our children tight. Breast milk or formula – maybe it doesn’t matter – as long as the love is the same.
What do you think? Is the real benefit of breastfeeding in the milk or in the moments we give our children?