Also, when breast-feeding advocates say it is natural, often what they mean is that breast milk is wholesome. Yet it’s only as nutritious as the foods mothers eat, the air they breathe and the substances they consume. There are concerns that breast milk is tainted by environmental contaminants that nursing mothers cannot control, and women have been arrested for feeding their infants this “natural” substance after consuming drugs, alcohol and even prescription medications.
2. Formula is just as healthy as breast milk.
Infant-care experts made this claim throughout the 20th century. Some midcentury doctors even touted alternatives — made of cow’s milk whey or soy, along with oils, vitamins and minerals — as more nutritious than breast milk.It is not a coincidence that these alternatives are known as “formula,” a term that connotes scientific sophistication.
We now know that breast milk, with its unique balance of proteins, fats, vitamins and carbohydrates, confers a range of health benefits, including lessening the chances of ear infections, asthma, gastrointestinal ailments, diabetes, allergies, obesity and sudden infant death syndrome. But it is not clear that breast-feeding makes a substantial difference for children in developed countries. (There is no doubt about its advantages in places that lack access to clean water and adequate health care.)
Since scientists can’t assign women to randomized groups of breast-feeders and formula-feeders, they are forced to work backward from data, making it difficult to firmly establish whether breast-feeding improves a child’s health. For example, mothers who breast-feed are also more likely to adopt other wholesome behaviors: They eat less junk food, they’re less likely to smoke, and they see doctors. So studies have trouble determining whether children who were breast-fed are less likely to be obese because they received breast milk — or because their mothers cooked healthier foods.
3. One year is the optimal age for weaning.
Your average new mom will probably tell you she’s aiming to breast-feed for one year. That’s the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics. But there’s nothing special about the one-year mark. In fact, there is no optimal age for weaning. Breast milk confers most of its advantages in the first three to four months of life, and some babies lose interest before their first birthday while others are happy to breast-feed well into toddlerhood.