Dr. Andy

Reflections on medicine and biology among other things

Friday, February 10, 2006

Breastfeeding is bad for kids!

UPDATE: Welcome to Grand Rounds visitors. I'll be hosting next week, and submission guidelines are here if you are interested.

During residency, a conference was devoted to a Jeopardy type game with each question about some aspect of breast feeding. It quickly became apparent that whatever answer made breast feeding seem best was the correct one.

The same theme seems to be at work in this article about breastfeeding and the risk of infections in infancy, which concludes

This nationally representative study documents increased risk of respiratory tract infection including pneumonia and recurrent OM in children who were fully breastfed for 4 vs 6 months. These findings support current recommendations that infants receive only breast milk for the first 6 months of life.
Let's look at the data on pneumonia. Here I present the odds ratio for no breastfeeding and various durations of exclusive breastfeeding (that is not taking anything else by mouth). Odd ratios can rougly be thought of as the increased chance of an outcome (e.g. OR 2.0 means something is twice as likely).

Duration OR
BF>6 months 1 (reference group)
BF 4-5 mo. 4.27
BF 1-3 mo. 1.97
BF <1>6 months) so random variation was probably accounts for a lot of the difference.

Don't get me wrong. I am all in favor of breastfeeding; an enormous amount of data shows it is best for babies. Both my kids were breastfed and this was very important to my wife and I. But, this data needs to be presented in an honest way, not massaged and manipulated so to always put breastfeeding in the best possible light.

In this study the number of patients in each group were as follows:

BF>6 months 136
BF 4-5 mo. 223
BF 1-3 mo. 343
BF <1 mo ~1200

I think we might be better off trying to get more moms to start breastfeeding or do so a little longer rather than holding up exlcusive breastfeeding as an unrealistic ideal.

UPDATE: when I put the first update at the top, blogger garbled the end of the post. Interestingly the same problem happened when I posted the first time. Curious. But now fixed.


At 6:08 AM, Blogger TC said...

I am rabidly pro-breastfeeding, so I have to admit I was looking for a fight, but I have to agree with you. And it would be better if more moms BF for 1 month and than switched than to not do it at all because they felt 6 months was too hard a goal. Especially when so many women go back to work at 6 weeks. How do feel about BF and allergies/asthma? Do you think it helps a lot? A little?

At 1:55 PM, Blogger That Girl said...

I am still bitter about my breastfeeding experience and I have always maintained that being truthful about everything would encourage rather than discourage more women to breastfeed.
Thanks for being honest!

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At 11:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Finally, the voice of reason. My baby is 5 months and I am just starting to wean because almost every single feeding has been miserable. I hate BF but you couldn't argue with the benefits. I was really trying to make it a year. Well, after my experiences I think I can argue with the benefits. And because pro-BF people make so many claims I have found to not be true (not menestrating, bonding with your baby, convienence, etc.), I am starting to question all benefits of BF. I would like to find more articles that challenge the benefits of BF. I do not think all of the information out there is untainted. Thank you for your post.

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I think that this is cool, of course it is really bad to the kids, thanks for the support!

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