Ahh. I see researchers have a new F-word: formula. An Australian National University study criticized researchers for taking a “Voldemort” approach to naming formula in their studies of infants. Said Dr. Julia Smith:
We looked at the findings of nearly 80 authoritative studies, all of which highlighted that formula-fed babies tend to be at higher risk of poor health than children fed on breast milk.
But where was the mention of formula? Nowhere that mattered, said researchers.
The fact that these less healthy infants were formula-fed was nowhere in the headlines or abstracts. Might I add, as a lady who peruses the children’s health studies, sometimes abstracts are all I can get without registering with online publications, which is costly.
So sometimes abstracts and headlines are all the public has access to.
Rather than mentioning formula feeding as a risk factor, Dr. Smith says, the researchers are simply glossing over the possible correlation. One study example was: “Breastfeeding and necrotising enterocolitis”. (Bless you!)
Dr. Smith and her colleagues aren’t trying to make formula feeders feel guilty. Rather, they think that part of getting more women to breastfeeding is by getting more accurate information out there. Part of that, they say, is getting the word out when infant formula could be one of the factors in infant health problems.
Might I add, as a woman who has used both formula and my own milk, that I receive much more shock, awe, and even dirty looks for breastfeeding my lil guy than I ever did formula feeding my older boy when he quit the breasts. And I’m a discrete public breastfeeder.
This isn’t meant to be one more round of “Beat the Formula Feeder.” I’ve said before that as parents, we’re likely to feel guilty during our kids’ lives. No matter where you go or what you do, Mother of the Year, you’ll be criticized by someone for not parenting properly.
Oh, your son is only 90th percentile? Mine’s 100th. What are you feeding him?
Let’s not make this about guilt, but about accuracy. Kick that “Voldemort effect”. If it were “lollipops” or “oranges” instead of formula, I’m certain we’d see the headlines. As Dr. Smith said,
This is not helping properly informed health professionals and mothers. How can we expect physicians and other health professionals to be informed and convincing about the importance of breastfeeding if they themselves are not getting the facts on risks of formula feeding presented in a prominent and clear fashion?
On a side note: As a writer and as a reader who finished the last two books in the HP series last week (What the?!), I got a great chuckle about the Harry Potterization of this research. Who knew that a “food” could be compared to a fictional evil wizard?
Image: brokinhrt2 on Flickr under a Creative Commons License
So many products now go under the label “organic.” When I want to track down the authenticity of a Web site, I go to Snopes. Does anyone have a recommendation for a comparable screening site for organic children’s clothing or toy fabric?
Have a great day, all.
I completely agree! I’ve “enjoyed” any number of frowny faces turned upon me as I nursed (no booby visible!). What the heck!??
Also, I’d like to add that it seems to me the headlines WOULD read “Breastfeeding Found Harmful” IF such a thing could be found to be true!
Crimson Wife says
Everyone knows that breastmilk is healthiest for babies. The big sticking point isn’t a lack of knowledge but that most moms in the U.S. go back to work before their child’s 1st birthday. Many moms I know feel that pumping at work is a hassle & so they switch to formula once their maternity leave is up.
We need a year of paid maternity leave like most of the other developed nations.
Lori Levere says
I Believe that most of the people who truly wanted to breastfeed and were disappointed with the outcome feel regret and not guilt. We feel guilt when we know something to be detrimental and we knowingly do it anyway. In most cases the reason people don’t breastfeed is not for lack of trying, it is for lack of information to self advocate to get care which will lead to success. Babies need to be skin to skin with moms for the first weeks. Crying to get there is normal but most moms just think crying means they don’t have enough milk.THis is just bad information.
Crimson Wife says
I just read a very interesting article in the current issue of “The Atlantic Monthly”. It’s entitled “The Case Against Breastfeeding”.
While I don’t agree with everything the author says, she makes the excellent point that the scientific case for the benefits of BF isn’t remotely as strong as “lactivists” often make it out to be.
I’m generally pro-BF and have nursed 2 out of my 3 kids. I wanted to nurse my oldest too, but she was physically unable to latch on. I tried pumping but had all kinds of supply issues despite everything my lactation consultant, LLL, and books suggested. My milk never fully came in and it dried up completely by 6 wks PP 🙁 I didn’t know about milk banks at the time (and wouldn’t have been able to afford it even if I had) so she got formula. She’s been very similar in her health, weight, intelligence, etc. to her siblings who were BF.
Emily Jones says
The other, unspoken reason that they keep the word “formula” on the down low is that it is so bloody profitable. Add to that the fact that 85+% of American women are FFing their babies, and what can you do? Keep quiet and hope not too many babies get sick or die so you will be forced to pull the plug on one of the most lucrative and ubiquitous products available in the world, which will destroy several major corporations and leave tens of millions of women with no safe or cheap alternative.
I don’t think this is an accurate assessment, although I appreciate your P.O.V. The media never holds back in its negative view on formula feeding. Breastfeeding is “in” right now, and the media reflects this. I don’t think any parent will misunderstand what these headlines mean – there is only one alternative to breastfeeding, and that’s formula, so it kind of goes without saying.
I’d also add that there are numerous studies out there that prove the “dangers” of formula feeding are minimal, pretty much the difference of a few more ear infections and a case or two of stomach upset a year (both of which can be explained by the modality of the feeding; ie, if you let your baby drink a bottle lying down, it can cause an ear infection; finding the right formula can prevent stomach problems).
One more point: As a journalist myself, I can tell you that often we need to rephrase our words (and headlines) carefully as to not misrepresent these studies, but still find the “story”. Often we are presenting information in a way that will make the headline more exciting – but if you read between the lines, research studies are always something to be taken with a grain of salt. Not that I’d admit that to my readers, LOL…