There are many myths about breastfeeding. We recently conducted research in fathers in the setting of teenage pregnancy as part of our Australian Father’s Study and were disappointed to read comments made by some young fathers who thought the benefits of breastfeeding were a myth (1). If you are interested in reading more about our Australian Father’s Study go to australianfathersstudy.com.
After discovering this disappointing news, we decided to write a blog dispelling two common myths about breastfeeding.
Myth 1. It is too hard to breastfeed
Whilst some women cannot breast feed for medical reasons, most can!
Published Australian figures report that 92% of women are able to start breastfeeding in hospital (2). In our DOMINO trial of 2399 pregnant women (3), we found a similar success rate, with 2148 (90%) women successfully initiating breastfeeding in hospital (4).
However, by six months, only 50% of Australian women will continue to breastfeed their infant (2).
There are many services available for women who are breastfeeding and experience difficulties. You just need to ask for help. We can identify who you are even before you leave hospital and offer you additional postpartum support.
In our latest research published in the International Breastfeeding Journal, we followed 2148 women who initiated breastfeeding in hospital. Of these, 877 continued to breastfed either partially (N = 262) or fully (N = 615) until six months postpartum and 1271 ceased breastfeeding early. Median breastfeeding duration in women who ceased early was under 4 weeks (4). In multivariate analysis, we could correctly identify 83% of women who started, but then prematurely ceased breastfeeding. This means there is a four week window where help should be sought and provided.
If you would like to read the complete published research article then please click here.
Myth 2. The benefits of breastfeeding are overstated
Breastfeeding has short and long term benefits to mother and baby (5-11).
There are many short term maternal benefits including
- reduction in post partum bleeding,
- rapid uterine involution,
- greater reduction in post partum weight loss and
- greater intervals between children (secondary to lactational amenorrhoea).
Long term maternal benefits include:
- a reduction in risk of ovarian and breast cancer,
- possible reduction in osteoporosis and hip fracture later in life.
Short term benefits for the baby include:
- reduced risk of infections (respiratory, otitis media, gastrointestinal, meningitis, bacteraemia, urinary tract),
- reduced incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis in preterm infants,
- reduced atopic disease, and
- protective effects against autoimmune diseases (e.g. Celiac disease and type 1 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease) (4, 5).
Long term benefits for the child include:
- reduced incidence of obesity, hypercholesterolaemia, type 2 diabetes and lower risk of hypertension
- neurodevelopmental benefits.
One strong piece of evidence supporting the argument that breastfeeding increases the IQ of children came from the PROBIT study. This study reported a positive IQ increase in babies delivered at Baby Friendly Health Initiative hospitals (8).
Baby Friendly Health Initiative hospitals have higher associated rates of breast feeding compared to other hospitals (8).
Our own research also supports a finding that breastfeeding increases IQ. We performed a prospective multicenter Australian study examining the association between breastfeeding and child IQ at 18 months. Expectant mothers were recruited from antenatal clinics between 12 and 20 weeks gestational age. Infants were subsequently followed to 18 months of age (12).
The primary outcome was infant intelligence quotient (IQ). At eighteen months infants attended for an assessment where a trained psychologist undertook a Bayley Scales of Infant Development, second edition (BSID-II) assessment. The BSID-II is a widely used assessment tool for identifying developmental delays in children ages 1–42 months.
We found that the infants of women who breastfed had significantly higher scores in cognitive and language domains compared to infants of women who formula fed their infants (12).
Although our study measured IQ at the age of 18 months, many other studies have demonstrated persistence of a positive impact from breastfeeding at older ages, even up to the age of 18 years (13-15).
Have a go and seek help if you run into trouble
So the short message is to “have a go” at breastfeeding.
Most women can breastfeed their baby.
Breastfeeding has many short and long term benefits to you and your child.
In fact, breastfeeding may be the best investment you can make in your child’s future. After all, parents pay thousands of dollars for private school education to help their child have a bright future. Breastfeeding is a lot cheaper and may help your child’s health, wellbeing and IQ score!
- Lam D, Highet V, Petersen RW, Quinlivan JA. Australian Father’s Study – Expectant teenage fathers attitudes and roles during pregnancy. RCOG World Congress 2015, 12–15 April, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia Volume 122, Issue Supplement S1 Pages 1–414Article first published online: 15 APR 2015 | DOI: 10.1111/1471-0528.13380, At brisbane, Queensland, Australia, Volume: Volume 122, Issue Supplement S1 Page 326 | DOI: 10.1111/1471-0528.13380
- Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4364.0.55.002 – Australian Health Survey: Health Service Usage and Health Related Actions, 2011-2012. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics; [updated 2013 Mar 26; cited 2013 Jun 15]. Available from: http://www.abs.gov.au<http://www.abs.gov.au/>
- Makrides M, Gibson RA, McPhee AJ, Yelland L, Quinlivan J, Ryan P. Effect of DHA supplementation during pregnancy on maternal depression and neurodevelopment of young children: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2010;304(15):1675-83
- Quinlivan JA, Kua S, McPhee A, Gibson R, Makrides M. Can we identify women who initiate and then prematurely cease breastfeeding? An Australian multicentre cohort study. INTERNATIONAL BREASTFEEDING JOURNAL 10(1) · DECEMBER 2015DOI: 10.1186/s13006-015-0040-y
- American Academy of Pediatrics. Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk. Pediatrics. 2005; 115(2): 496-506. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2004-2491
- Verduci E, Banderali G, Barberi S, Radaelli G, Lops A, Betti F, Riva E et al. Epigenetic Effects of Human Breast Milk. Nutrients. 2014;6(4) 1711-1724. DOI 3390/nu6041711
- Caspi A, Williams B, Kim-Cohen J, Craig I, Milne B, Poulton R, Schalkwyk L et al. Moderation of breastfeeding effects on the IQ by genetic variation in fatty acid metabolism. PNAS. 2007 Nov 20;104(47):18860-18865. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0704292104.
- Kramer M, Chalmers B, Hodnett E, Sevkovskaya Z, Dzikovich I, Shapiro S, Collet JP et al. Promotion of Breastfeeding Intevention Trial (PROBIT): A Randomized Trial in the Republic of Belarus. JAMA. 2001 Jan 24;285(4):413-420. DOI 1001/jama.285.4.413.
- Kramer M, Aboud F, Mironova E, Vanilovich I, Platt R, Matush L, Igumnov S et al. Breastfeeding and Child Cognitive Development. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008;65(5):578-584.
- Der G, Batty G, Deary I. Effect of breastfeeding on intelligence in children: prospective study, sibling pairs analysis, and meta analysis. BMJ. 2006 Oct 4;333:945. DOI 1136/bmj.38978.699583.55
- Gibson-Davis C, Brooks-Gunn J. Breastfeeding and Verbal Ability of 3-Year Olds in a Multicity Sample. Pediatrics. 2006; 118(5): e1444:1451. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2006-0072. Online ISSN: 1098-4275.
- Kua S, Quinlivan JA. Breastfeeding for six months is an independent association of language and cognitive intelligence in infants at 18 months. RANZCOG WA/SA ASM 2014. DOI: 10.13140/2.1.3221.8245
- Whitehouse A, Robinson M, Li J, Oddy W. Duration of breast feeding and language ability in middle childhood. Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol. 2010; 25:44-52. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-3016.2010.01161.x.
- Horwood LJ, Fergusson DM. Breastfeeding and Later Cognitive and Academic Outcomes. Pediatrics. 1998;101(1):e9. ISSN: 1098-4275
- Eriksen HL, Kesmodel US, Underbjerg M, Kilburn T, Bertrand J, Mortensen EL. Predictors of Intelligence at the Age of 5: Family, Pregnancy and Birth Characteristics, Postnatal Influences, and Postnatal Growth. PLOS ONE. 2013;8(11):e79200. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079200