A new study has been released questioning the true benefits of breast-feeding.
The study, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, examined data from three separate populations: 8,237 children, 7,319 siblings and 1,773 sibling pairs where at least one child was breast-fed and the other was not.
The researchers measured 11 outcomes shown in the past to be impacted by breast-feeding: obesity; body mass index (BMI); hyperactivity; asthma; behavior compliance; parental attachment; and achievement in reading recognition, vocabulary, math ability, scholastic competence and intelligence.
Looking at all the data, they found that breast-feeding had more positive outcomes than bottle-feeding in areas such as hyperactivity, BMI, reading recognition, math skills, vocabulary word identification, scholastic competence, digit recollection and obesity.
However, looking at the siblings who were not breast-fed, the benefits were not statistically significant. There was an exception that breast-fed children had a higher risk of asthma, though it was unclear if those reports were actual diagnoses or self-generated.
With regards to the fact that previous studies have consistently shown breast-fed babies as being healthier on average, Dr. Cynthia Colen, sociology professor at Ohio State University, said that previous surveys had "selection bias."
Colen claimed that factors like a mother's age, employment and family income altered the figures, since mothers who breast-feed statistically have better than average education, resources and wellbeing.
Colen did not completely discount breast-feeding as a beneficial practice, but she said the results of the study suggest it is time to focus on factors other than breast-feeding in terms of healthy child development.
"I'm not say breast-feeding is not beneficial, especially for boosting nutrition and immunity in newborns," Colen said in a statement. "But if we really want to improve maternal and child health in this country, let's also focus on things that can really do that in the long term - like subsidized day care, better maternity leave policies and more employment opportunities for low-income mothers that pay a living wage, for example."
Colen said the results of the study bear significance for U.S. health policy.
"If breast-feeding doesn't have the impact that we think it will have on long-term childhood outcomes, then even though it is very important in the short-term we really need to focus on other things," she said. "We need to take a much more careful look at what happens past that first year of life and understand that breast-feeding might be very difficult, even untenable, for certain groups of women. Rather than placing the blame at their feet, let's be more realistic about what breast-feeding does and doesn't do."