In governmental and popular literature breastfeeding is praised as being the optimum solution to infant feeding. The Wikipedia article, for instance, is extensive and well-cited suggesting the following benefits to infants: superior nutrition, greater immune health, higher intelligenceâ€¦Â the list goes on. For the mother, many long- and short-term health benefits are also cited.
In what has become quite a contentious article, Hanna Rosin for The Atlantic discusses what she calls “the ultimate badge of responsible parenting”, and suggests that “the actual health benefits of breastfeedingÂ are surprisingly thin“.
The best commentary on the article I’ve seen comes from Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution who discusses the econometrics of breastfeedingâ€”althoughÂ the comments are equally as enlightening, covering the problems with running scientific trials on breastfeeding (i.e. ethical issues with decreeing how a mother should feed her child) and more besides.
For now it appears that the jury is still out, edging towards breastfeeding due to small but significant benefits.
Given the massive, lucrative market available I fully expect that by the time I’m a parent the difference between formula and breast milk will be negligible, if not edging in favour of formula thanks to nutritional and scientific advances.Â Of course the psychological benefits of breastfeeding (if only to the parents?) may never be able to be duplicated.
viaÂ Overcoming Bias
Update: The BBC reports that Nutricia (owners of the Cow & Gate and Milupa brands) has been told to cease airing misleading adverts claiming that their follow-on milk could “support the immune system”:
Companies are not allowed to advertise formula milk for babies under six months old.
But some pro-breast feeding groups believe there should be a total ban on this kind of advertising.
The World Health Organization recommends that babies are given breast milk exclusively for the first six months and after that it should continue alongside food until the age of two.
In fact, according to the WHO:
Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants; it is also an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers.