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Medical Journal Uses Junk Science To Promote Baby Formula Over Breast Milk

A peer-reviewed medical journal, Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, is using junk science to promote claims that breast milk is no more beneficial for a child's health than formula.

The Norwegian study found that difficulty in feeding a newborn is due to the higher levels of male hormone in womb during pregnancy. The research also questions the health benefits of breast milk over formula.

However, this study did not compare levels of male hormones during pregnancy to the baby's health, but only to whether the mother breastfed after giving birth. Despite thousands of scientific publications that validate the benefits of breast feeding and breast milk, the researchers have supplied absolutely no evidence to back up their claim that there is no benefit from breast milk. They made statements based on their opinions with no support, a hallmark of promoters of junk science.

Lactation specialist June Chow says the study also promotes a sense of compliance if women have difficulty during breast feeding. "Breast feeding can be extremely challenging, especially for many first time mothers who need encouragement and professional advice on how to overcome specific barriers," she said.

Lead researcher of the study, Professor Sven Carlsen said "basically a mother who finds she has difficulty shouldn’t feels guilty - it probably is just the way it is, and her baby will not suffer for being fed formula milk....a mother should do what makes her happy."

In response, Chow stated "It's another way of telling women to just give up on their child if they have difficulty with the latch, breast congestion or other issues and yield to an inferior method of nutrition which is formula."

"Formula is clearly inferior to a mother's milk," said Dr. Ivan Ristic. "There are not only significant nutritional advantages in breast milk, but the bonding and nuturing components of breastfeeding cannot be replaced with formula," he said. "Infant formula worldwide is also plagued with toxins and ingredients which harm a baby's development and hamper nutritional needs," he concluded.

Two studies by University of Illinois food science and human nutrition professor Sharon Donovan show that the soy isoflavone genistein, in amounts present in commercial soy infant formulas, may inhibit intestinal cell growth in babies.

British researchers reported that babies fed a dairy-based formula grew up to have higher blood pressure than babies who were breast-fed.

BPA also leaches from the metal lining of infant formula containers and has been found at alarmingly high rates in one-third of the cans of baby formula.

Premature babies may especially benefit from breast milk because it's "twice as good as formula"' at providing not only nutrients but antioxidant protection as well, according to a study presented at an Experimental Biology 2001 meeting.

Breast milk is the most nutritious feed for the baby, protects them against infections and offers various benefits to the mother, including helping to lose the weight gained during pregnancy and reducing the risk of certain cancers.

What is the Media's Focus?

The media has mainly focused on Carlsen's claim that breastfeeding is no more beneficial to a baby's health than formula milk. Although the press release for this study states that the researchers reviewed "more than 50 international studies about the relationship between breastfeeding and health", the results from this research do not appear to have been published. Therefore, what evidence supports this claim is unclear.

Professor Sven Magnus Carlsen also claims that breastfeeding is associated with a slight health benefit for babies, but it is not the milk itself that is responsible. He says that successful breastfeeding is actually a sign that a mother had the optimal level of hormones during pregnancy resulting in her body developing in such a way that it is better able to produce milk. Higher levels of male hormones, Carlsen says, hinder the development of glandular tissues that produce milk, making it harder or less likely for the mother to breastfeed.

However, this is only a theory. This research only looked at data from pregnant women, comparing it with their breastfeeding habits after giving birth. The researchers have not supplied any evidence from research looking at how male hormone levels in the womb affect the subsequent health of the baby.

The study design - a cohort study - can only indicate what might influence breastfeeding, rather than show what actually causes a woman to decide whether to breastfeed or not. There are many physical, psychological, social and environmental reasons that can influence a woman's decision, and this study was not set up to investigate all of these possible reasons.

How did the researchers interpret the results?

The researchers suggest that breastfeeding (including women at high risk for low birthweight babies) was negatively associated with maternal androgen levels in the second trimester of pregnancy (about weeks 13-27). This means that the women were more likely to breastfeed and continue to breastfeed for longer if they had lower levels of male hormones in the second trimester of pregnancy.

They hypothesise that high androgen levels during pregnancy may affect the likelihood of breastfeeding by inhibiting transformation of the breast into the lactating state. They say that if male hormone levels are high during pregnancy they may also be high at birth. These hormones could either inhibit the production of milk, or have psychological effects on women that may lower their dedication to breastfeeding.

Interpretations Are Based on Speculations and Opinion

This study cannot say whether there is a causal relationship between male hormone levels and a decreased likelihood of breastfeeding. The study has some critical limitations:

* They highlight that the study was carried out on Caucasian women in a country where breastfeeding rates were high. The sample may not therefore be comparable to other populations in countries where breastfeeding is not as common.

* The researchers did not have information as to why women did not breastfeed (whether they had difficulty doing so or chose not to). As there are many physical, psychological, social and environmental reasons as to why a woman may not breastfeed, it is not possible to speculate how male hormones affect this.

* The researchers did not study the effects on epidurals during labor which shown to detrimentally affect breastfeeding.

* The research conducted multiple statistical analyses investigating associations between breastfeeding and different potential risk factors. A study that makes multiple comparisons like this raises the likelihood that its findings are due to chance rather than showing a true association.

Conclusions

Based on this one small cohort study, the claims that breast milk is of no benefit to health are unfounded and clearly based on junk science. The study did not investigate whether breastfed babies were healthier or not, but looked only at levels of their mother's hormones during pregnancy and their breastfeeding after giving birth.

For women who can breastfeed, the advice that 'breast is best' stands. Medical journals are increasingly making attempts through dubious studies to bypass nature's choice for newborns. It is important for new mothers to understand that there will never be an artificial man made substitute that can ever replace the nutritional content of breast milk and the nuturing benefits of breastfeeding.

Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.


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