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Breastfeeding and its benefits

This question was posted the Infant and young child feeding interventions forum area and has 2 replies.

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Anonymous 226

Normal user

7 Jan 2010, 13:54

Dear All, this page appeared today under health issues on the BBC News website. I am very interested in knowing your views on this issues that has been raised before mothers are informed otherwise. Thanks Page last updated at 00:02 GMT, Thursday, 7 January 2010 E-mail this to a friend Printable version Hormones 'govern ability to breastfeed' Breastfeeding has been linked to many benefits for babies Mothers who find breastfeeding so hard that they give up should not blame themselves, researchers say. A Norwegian study concludes that difficulty feeding a newborn may be down to higher levels of the male hormone testosterone during pregnancy. Having reviewed all of the available evidence, researchers also cast doubt on the health benefits of breast milk over formula. The work features in Acta Obstetricia and Gynacologica Scandinavica. The team from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology followed 180 pregnant women. These included those at risk of delivering a small baby - births which are known to be influenced by higher levels of the male sex hormone testosterone. A mother should do what makes her happy Professor Sven Carlsen Norwegian University of Science and Technology After taking into account other factors such as age, education and smoking, they still found a clear relationship between low rates of breastfeeding at three and six months and higher levels of testosterone. There are many reasons why a mother might have high levels of this male hormone in her womb during pregnancy as the placenta - an engine of hormone production - kicks into action. The team suggest that the hormone may impact negatively on the development of glandular tissue in the breast, in turn affecting her ability to feed her baby. Lead researcher Professor Sven Carlsen said: "Basically a mother who finds she has difficulty shouldn't feel 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." Benefits 'exaggerated' He argues that it is the hormone balance in the womb which explains both a mother's ability to breastfeed and any apparent health benefits of a baby who is breastfed - rather than the breast milk itself. Last year Professor Carlsen's team reviewed 50 international studies on the relationship between breastfeeding and health. Based on this work he concludes the benefits of breast over formula milk may have been exaggerated. "These health differences are really not so significant in any event. "When you look at the epidemiological studies and try to strip away the other factors, it is really hard to find any substantial benefits among children who were breastfed as babies." The government recognises that breastfeeding is the best form of nutrition for infants Department of Health Professor Ashley Grossman of the Centre for Endocrinology at Barts in London said the suggestion that male hormones may influence the ability to feed was an interesting one. "There may be all sorts of biological factors which affect a woman's ability to breastfeed, and when women are always being told to go away and try harder it's important to stress some simply cannot. "We are learning more and more about how the environment of the womb may influence a child's future development - this is really where it's all happening, and it has a much greater impact than whether or not a child is breastfed or not." The Department of Health recommends that all babies be exclusively breastfeed for the first six months. A spokesman said: "The government recognises that breastfeeding is the best form of nutrition for infants. "It gives health benefits for both the baby and the mother - even after they are no longer breastfeeding. "It protects against stomach bugs and chest infections, provides perfect nutrition for the first six months and reduces the likelihood of becoming obese in later childhood."

Marie McGrath


Frequent user

7 Jan 2010, 17:28

Dear Anonymous, Please read comment by the UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative new Item on this coverage at the link: See also Mike Brady's blog about this at Baby Milk Action: As you will see this is a good example of how media reporting can sensationalise a story, and consequently not reflect a true and balanced report. The doubt suggested over the benefits of breastfeeding for infants as reported in the media is quite incredible And in the context of this forum, breastfeeding in emergencies secures a food and fluid source and the protection against infection that saves infant lives worldwide. And there are many examples - particularly in the context of HIV programming - that show artificial feeding contributes to infant malnutrition, illness and death.

Karleen Gribble

Assoc Prof Western Sydney University

Normal user

8 Jan 2010, 02:16

There's a few things that you need to understand about this study (which I have read) and the context in which it was carried out. This research is from Norway, the country with the best breastfeeding rates in the Western world- 99% initiation of breastfeeding and 80% of women still breastfeeding at 6 months. Societial support for breastfeeding women in Norway is very good. The very small number of women who cease breastfeeding in the early weeks of their infant's life would include those whose have a genuine physiological problem with making sufficient milk for their babies. It was found that these women were more likely to have higher levels of androgens during pregnancy. This is not a huge surprise, it's been something that others have been suggesting for some time (see the book for mothers "Making more Milk" by West and Maracso). The researchers seem to think that androgen levels can account for pretty much every factor associated with early weaning....they are's a case of if your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. It's a bit simplistic but there's no doubt that they have found a useful priece of the puzzle. As to the idea that formula is as good as breastmilk. Well, the references cited in the study as providing evidence for this idea are 4 from the PROBIT study (the huge RCT of the implementation of BFHI in Belarus). The 4 studies cited looked at the impact of BFHI implementation (and lower of higher artificial feeding rates) on child behaviour, growth, dental caries, allergies/asthma- that's it. You'll get few people getting all het up saying you must breastfeed otherwise you're child will have behaviour problems or holes in their teeth. And to be perfectly frank any results from the PROBIT study on allergy and asthma is going to be questionable because the issue with allergic disease is exposure to allergens- and the only way to do this properly is a longitudinal study which records the time of the infant's first exposure to anything other than breastmilk- the only study I am aware of that has done this is one by Wendy Oddy in W Australia (and indeed, the critical factor was the timing of the first exposure to cows milk protein). There was nothing in the study that addressed the most common morbidities and mortalities due to artifical feeding, that is: diarrhoeal disease and respiratory infection. Shall I be cynical and say that the researchers wanted to get media interest in their study?? (This was just a single small paragraph in the paper) Perhaps. Or maybe they just don't see the adverse effects of formula feeding since they are in Norway, where as I mentioned, just about every woman breastfeeds for a substantial period of time and where they have one of the best public health systems in the world. And just a note about language when we talk about infant feeding. Breastfeeding is the normal way of feeding babies. It is extremely important and in fact it is vital, essential, indispensible to the wellbeing of infants and young children. It has NO BENEFITS. It is NOT best. Rather, artificial feeding is risky and dangerous. It actively and passively harms the immune system and the health of infants. Breastfeeding does not decrease disease, artificial feeding increases it. Breastfeeding is not best, infant formula is deficient. This may seem pedantic but we actually have a growing body of evidence that if we talk about breastfeeding as bes and the benefits of breastfeeding that we fail to effectively communicate the importance of breastfeeding and the risks of formula feeding- we actually assist in the promotion of formula feeding. I can provide more evidence on this if there is interest.

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