Here’s welcome news for any mom who, like me, couldn’t breast-feed and felt like she was dooming her baby to a fat, hyperactive, less intelligent future: The long-term benefits of breast-feeding have been exaggerated, according to a new Ohio State University study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine.
The researchers—who examined data on more than 8,000 children up to age 14—did find that breast-feeding was linked to a reduced risk of obesity and hyperactivity and measures of higher intelligence, but that breast advantage evaporated once they looked at families where one child was breast-fed and one wasn’t (my exact situation—my older son got the breast while the younger one had to settle for formula because I had low supply).
The researchers’ explanation? Women who breast-feed tend to be better educated and more affluent than their bottle-feeding peers, and those factors alone may explain their babies’ advantages. (One exception: Breast-feeding may actually be linked to lower rates of asthma, they said.)
As far as I’m concerned, the takeaway is clear: While breast feeding is ideal (mother’s milk—even the first few drops called colostrum—contains antibodies that can help protect against infections), there’s no reason you should be wracked with guilt if you can’t do it. Your child’s weight and IQ will not suffer.
Lisa Lombardi is the Executive Editor of Health magazine.