Bashir Abdullahi's Blog

Which is Best? Breast milk or Baby formula?

with 5 comments

I was surfing through the net when I was attracted to a headline in the online version of The Daily Mail newspaper which reads: “Breast is NOT best: Mother’s milk no better than baby formula, scientist claim”.

Mother breastfeeding baby. Courtesy iCLIPART Images

The first thing that came to my mind was, could this be another ‘Flat earth news’? Thanks to Nick Davies, the author of a book with the same title.

In one of the book’s chapters, we were made to understand that some PR agencies hired by some companies producing certain products sometimes create pseudo groups as independent organisations to produce research to defend their sales.

He cited an example of the food industry in Europe which he said “…has been funding groups to protect its position against public and government alarm over obesity, junk food, misleading food labeling, diabetes and the advertising of fatty foods to children.

“British newspapers routinely carry reports and quotes on diet from the Social Issues Research Centre, the British Nutrition Foundation and the International Life Sciences Foundation and routinely fail to point out that all three have recieved significant funding variously from Cardbury Schweppes, Nestle, Kelloggs, the Diary Council, Kraft and the Sugar Bureau.”

Baby Formula

Back to the Daily Mail’s story. It reads: ” Women should forget what they have been told about the health benefits of breastfeeding, it was claimed today.

“A controversial new study has concluded that, contrary to the view of many experts, breast is not necessarily best for children in the first months of life.

“Professor Sven Carlsen, who led the Norwegian team, declared: ‘Baby formula is as good as breast milk.'”

Incidentally, all the reports about the study didn’t indicate who funded the study.

I quickly ‘googled’ Professor Sven Carlsen’s name and found out that he had participated in a research funded by a pharmaceutical company called Glaxo Wellcome AS.

However, this may not be a direct link, but it made me suspicious of the veracity of the research.

The choice is yours

The issue of superiority between breast-feeding and ‘bottle-feeding’ has been on for some times now and there is no indication that it will die down soon.

But some take the middle stand that using both methods to feed a child is the best as not all mothers can afford to breast feed their babies.

An article on discussed the advantages of both methods.

On Breastfeeding it noted that: “Not only is breast milk nutritionally superior to baby formula, breast fed babies typically experience less gassiness and spitting up than bottle fed babies.

“Additionally, mother’s milk provides babies with valuable antibodies not present in commercially prepared formula.

“Breastfed babies are less prone to respiratory and ear infections, asthma, allergies and diabetes than those who are bottle fed, and evidence suggests that breastfed babies are even at a reduced risk of cot death.”

As for the proponents of bottle-feeding, the article stated that “Not all mothers are able to breastfeed.

“Women who are HIV positive or have AIDS, as well as mothers who are undergoing chemotherapy treatments are not good candidates for breastfeeding.

“Also, some medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, make breast-feeding inadvisable.

“For these women, as well as those who simply prefer to bottle-feed, formula provides a balanced, nutrient rich diet for their baby’s first year of life.”

However, we shouldn’t forget the Chinese poisoned baby milk scandal, which led to the death of many innocent babies.

Therefore, it is up to you to decide which best suits you, breast milk or baby formula. As for me, I go for the breast milk.

Breast is NOT best: Mother’s milk no better than baby formula, scientists claim

By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 5:34 PM on 06th January 2010

Mother breastfeeding babyTaboo: Women who bottle fed their babies should not worry that they are doing anything wrong

Women should forget what they have been told about the health benefits of breastfeeding, it was claimed today.

A controversial new study has concluded that, contrary to the view of many experts, breast is not necessarily best for children in the first months of life.

Professor Sven Carlsen, who led the Norwegian team, declared: ‘Baby formula is as good as breast milk.’

What really affects the health of a growing infant is the hormone balance in the womb before birth, according to the research.

This in turn influences a woman’s ability to breast feed, resulting in a misleading association between breastfeeding and child health, it is claimed.

The only benefit from breastfeeding supported by genuine evidence is a ‘small IQ advantage’, said the scientists.

And even this was yet to be properly confirmed.

Prof Carlsen’s team reviewed data from more than 50 international studies looking at the relationship between breastfeeding and health.

Most concluded that the more children were breastfed, the healthier they were.

On the surface this was correct, said Prof Carlsen, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.

But he added: ‘Even if this is statistically true, it is not because of breastfeeding itself. There are very few studies that have examined the underlying controls on breastfeeding ability.’

The largest study on breastfeeding was conducted in Belarus and involved more than 17,000 women and children who were monitored for six years.

It ‘cut the legs out from underneath most of the assertions that breastfeeding has health benefits’ said the scientists.

For example, the study found no evidence that breastfeeding reduced the risk of asthma and allergies in children.

Mental ability was the only area where a small benefit was seen.

‘It appears that children who are breastfed have a small IQ advantage,’ said Prof Carlsen.

‘But this needs to be confirmed in new, carefully planned and conducted studies.’

The Norwegian scientists’ own work pointed to links between levels of androgen male hormones in the wombs of pregnant women, the health of children, and breastfeeding.

‘Pregnant women who have higher levels of androgens breastfeed less,’ said Prof Carlsen.

‘Probably this is a direct effect of hormones that simply limit nursing ability by reducing milk production in the breast.’

A pregnant woman’s health affected hormones in her womb, which had knock-on effects on her unborn child, said the researchers.

Normally a certain amount of the androgen testosterone is converted to the female hormone oestrogen in the placenta, the vital organ that supplies oxygen and nutrients to the foetus and links mother and child.

This is an energy-intensive process, said Prof Carlsen. If the placenta is underpowered, some of the testosterone that should be converted remains unchanged and has an impact on both the unborn baby and its mother.

For the mother, this leads to reduced development of glandular tissue in the breasts so her ability to make milk is impaired.

Adverse effects on the child are believed to include an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and the hormonal disorder polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in girls.

Breastfeeding is less common in younger women, smokers, women who have had the pregnancy condition pre-eclampsia, women who have low-birth weight or premature babies, women with PCOS, and when the child is a boy.

A number of misguided theories have been put forward to explain why these groups avoid breastfeeding, say the researchers. One claim is that the bond between a mother and her child is not as strong when the baby is a boy.

‘This is purest nonsense,’ said Prof Carlsen.

‘Boys are not less loved by their mothers than girls. We can blame biology here, not mothers. All these relationships can be explained by one and the same cause, namely the level of male hormones during pregnancy.

‘We find it very interesting that almost all of the factors previously shown to be associated with breastfeeding can be explained by changes in testosterone levels in the mother during pregnancy.’

He said it was wrong to pillory women who find it difficult to breastfeed.

Women who bottle fed their babies should not worry that they are doing anything wrong, and should not be intimidated by politically correct messages, he added.

‘Don’t let overzealous health professionals give you a guilty conscience,’ said Prof Carlsen.

‘There are many good reasons to breastfeed. But concern for the child’s health is not one of them. There is no reason why women who are struggling to breastfeed should have to go around feeling guilty, or think that they are giving their child a poor start in life if they can’t nurse. Baby formula is as good as breast milk.’

The strongest argument for encouraging mothers to breastfeed was environmental, said Prof Carlsen.

Breastfeeding avoided the environmental costs of producing bottles and infant formula, and the energy consumed sterilising bottles.

Nursing babies at the breast was also the right approach for developing countries, where economics, hygiene and lack of natural resources made breastfeeding the better option.

The research is published in the January edition of the journal Acta Obstestricia and Gynecologia Scandinavica.

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Comments (125)

Here’s what readers have had to say so far. Why not add your thoughts below, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

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I think the study has a lot of holes in it. Benefits to the child’s health include HEALTHY weight gain and antibodies from Mom to help fight off colds and such. I know first-hand as a daycare worker that breastfed babies do better when they are sick. Formula fed babies tend to be overweight. I am all for formula I know a lot of Moms have to work and can’t nurse and there is nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with not being comfortable with nursing. No one should feel guilty for it at all but you can’t deny that best is breast. Breastmilk has a better taste to it, it’s warm and gives baby and mom a chance to sit down and bond for 20 minutes. You are nurturing your child inside and out. How is that not better?

– Jennifer, Savannah, GA, 06/1/2010 19:39

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Agree completely! My now 15 yr old daughter was bottle-fed……….and despite lots of tut- tutting here in France, my sister-in-law’s 3 breast-fed children have been more sickly and ill then ever my daughter was!

– karen, haute savoie France, 06/1/2010 19:39

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I agree with this article. If you can do it, go for it, but if you can’t than you shouldn’t be made to feel guilty.

Personally I breastfed my first born (a boy) for 6 months enjoyed it, but due to the lack of sleep, which the health professionals do not tell you about as breastfed babies need to be fed frequently, I didn’t see how I would manage doing it again with my second (also a boy), Three years on, I don’t think there are any differences between them.

– S Khan, London, 06/1/2010 19:35

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It is whatever you want to do, whatever makes you happy and whatever nourishes the baby. Simple! I never breast fed any of my 3 and my mum never breast fed any of us. At the risk of sounding a little boastful, we are all smart, articulate, healthy etc. Why do some people always have to impose their beliefs on others. It is a free country after all.

– sophie, belfast, 06/1/2010 19:35

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I have two boys, one 19 months and one 3 months, and I wasn’t able to breatfeed either for longer than 6 weeks as I simply didn’t have enough food for them, despite trying everything (including eglinol on doctor’s prescription).Having spoken to many many mom’s about this, it seems it is not that uncommon for women to not have enough milk. To those who do and are able to breastfeed, well done. It is not easy. But for the many of us who do not produce enough milk (my youngest drinks over a litre a day), it is good to know that we are not hurting our babies (who we love more than life itself) by giving them formula. After all, they have to eat. To those women who have successfully breastfed, you’ve done well but please don’t be harsh on those of us who aren’t able to do so well.

– Just a mommy trying her best, Johannesburg, SA, 06/1/2010 19:32

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Oh, really? Em, a millennium of nursing mothers had it wrong, eh? Women who lived in caves had no access to bottles or formula, yet they were able to successfully nurse their babies. Ditto down the ages, except, of course, the New Age nuts who want to replace the perfect nutrients in breast milk with designer powders and rubber teats. Give me a break. Women’s breasts were designed for the purpose of providing nourishment to their babies. End of story.

– Maeve McFadden, San Diego, USA, 06/1/2010 19:26

Written by danmakaranta

January 6, 2010 at 7:30 pm

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5 Responses

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  1. You were talking about me following news related to women. Now take a look at what YOU are writing about. Man, I’m totally speechless…

    Yong Wang

    January 7, 2010 at 4:25 am

  2. Dear Bashir.

    Professor Carlsens research is funded by the Norwegian Government, via The Norwegian University of Science and Technology. He has no connections to Nestle (or any other similar company).

    He does not intend to make mothers stop breastfeeding.

    He believes breastfeeding is great, but for those who are UNable to breastfeed, or are experiencing huge difficulties, he would like to ease their conscience and tell them
    1) Some women are not able to breastfeed, and it is not their fault, (and probably not much to do about it)
    2) The women who need to feed their mabies formula should not worry, as the alleged health benefits of breastfeeding are smaller than previously thought, because the health benefits are already present when the babies are born – due to a more favourable nutritional environment in the womb.

    Therefore, the choice between breastfeeding or formulafeeding is not what make the huge difference for the baby’s health. Other factors are more important.

    If you are interested in professor Carlsens research, please search PUBMED for his articles, using ‘Carlsen SM’ as searchword

    Hege Tunstad

    January 7, 2010 at 12:33 pm

  3. lol what is it with you and yong :D?


    January 8, 2010 at 11:13 am

  4. I don’t need any research to tell me that Human Breast milk is best for human babies! To me the answer is obvious!!!


    January 11, 2010 at 10:54 am

  5. […] The book makes a detailed and valid argument and I cannot help but be even more suspicious of newspaper stories now, and lo and behold first day that Angry Mob is back I see this story in the Mail (as well as every other local and national newspaper – churnalism is very powerful): ‘Breast milk is NOT better than baby formula, scientists claim‘. Obviously, the baby product industry is massive and parents are faced with a stupendous amount of artificial products that are supposed to enhance the health of their baby – so much so that you really wonder just how anyone managed to raise a child before the industrial revolution. I immediately Googled Professor Sven Carlsen to see what came up and found another blog doing the same: […]

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