Faith In Breasts

A nice example of entwined medicine, faith, social status, and care showing:

I made the mistake of idly musing about breast-feeding to a group of new mothers I’d just met. This time around, I said, I was considering cutting it off after a month or so. At this remark, the air of insta-friendship we had established cooled into an icy politeness, …

In my playground set, the urban moms in their tight jeans and oversize sunglasses size each other up using a whole range of signifiers: organic content of snacks, sleekness of stroller, ratio of tasteful wooden toys to plastic. But breast-feeding is the real ticket into the club. …

One day, … I noticed a 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association open to an article about breast-feeding: “Conclusions: There are inconsistent associations among breastfeeding, its duration, and the risk of being overweight in young children.” Inconsistent? … I called my doctor friend for her password to an online medical library, and then sat up and read dozens of studies examining breast-feeding’s association …

After a couple of hours, the basic pattern became obvious: the medical literature looks nothing like the popular literature. It shows that breast-feeding is probably, maybe, a little better; … A couple of studies will show fewer allergies, and then the next one will turn up no difference. Same with mother-infant bonding, IQ, leukemia, cholesterol, diabetes. Even where consensus is mounting, the meta studies—reviews of existing studies—consistently complain about biases, missing evidence, and other major flaws in study design.

Hat Tip to Alex.

Added 8:30am:  adina and Yvian make good points, so I'm persuaded: it does look like breast feeding has given substantial benefits.  Though note that a Brian comments at MR that formula has recently improved to greatly reduce the difference.

Added 11:20am: Alex privately points me to this rather damning critique of that supposed 6 point IQ gain study.

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