Breast-Feeding Frenzy

Is not breast-feeding really as dangerous to your baby as smoking?

Does breast-feeding create super-babies? Is choosing not to breast-feed your child the dietary equivalent of dropping her on her head?

An article in today’s New York Times, “Breast-Feed or Else,” advances the latest arguments for the health benefits of mother’s milk for infants, which supposedly include protection from viral infection and enhanced cognitive development and lowered risk of asthma, diabetes, leukemia, and obesity. Some advocates consider breast-feeding so preferable as to suggest that mothers unable to produce breast milk may be putting their children in harm’s way.

But the case for nursing is not airtight. Last March, Sydney Spiesel wrote about the exaggerated health benefits of breast-feeding. Specifically, he questioned the solidity of the studies that, for example, link higher IQ scores to breast-feeding. And he explained that mothers’ antibodies pass only into babies’ intestines, not into their bloodstreams. This means that while nursing prevents diarrheal disease, there’s no evidence that the antibodies offer other health benefits.