Since becoming a mom, and especially since starting this blog, I have paid particular attention to new breastfeeding research. After all, my training is in nutrition, and breast milk is one of the most interesting foods around. Plus, I’m currently lactating and still breastfeeding my daughter a few times per day, so it’s on my mind.
When I look back at the papers that I have covered and those that I find on other blogs and media outlets, I notice that many focus on how breastfeeding improves outcomes in babies.
But I also notice that when I blog about breastfeeding research, I have to spend a big chunk of the piece talking about the limitations of the study. Breastfeeding research – at least when conducted in humans – will always have big limitations that require disclaiming and explaining. The problem is that it is impossible to randomize breastfeeding trials or to “blind” the subjects to feeding type. It is difficult to know, despite the fanciest statistical methods, if it is breast milk that makes those babies thinner, smarter, stronger, cry more, etc, or if there are other factors at play in this complex thing called human life. Sometimes, by the time I’ve listed the problems with interpreting a breastfeeding study, I wonder if these findings were actually meaningful, and I’m sure my readers feel the same way.
Elsewhere around the Internet (not so much on my blog), I often see comments to this effect on articles about the latest research on the benefits of breastfeeding:
“Another useless study. Obviously we mammals were meant to feed our babies breast milk. I don’t know why scientists waste their time and our money with this stuff.”
Why bother doing more research on outcomes associated with breastfeeding? It is pretty clear that breastfeeding is a great way to feed an infant. Maybe it is time to stop oohing and awing over breast milk. Read more