The best thing about being a co-author of the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (8th Edition) was getting to work with Diane Wiessinger and Diana West. They are two amazing women who care passionately about helping mothers breastfeed.
Diane Wiessinger is known in the breastfeeding community for writing an essay a few years ago that pointed out something that seems incredibly obvious now: breastfeeding is normal. We are mammals, and this is how mammals feed their babies. It’s simple biology.
The logical progression from that simple fact is that it doesn’t make sense to talk about advantages of breastfeeding. As Diane points out, we wouldn’t talk about “the advantages of breathing clean air.” We’d talk about the risks of smoking or the risks of air pollution.
When scientists do research studies, the standard approach is to begin with the “norm” and test the intervention against it. For some reason, though, most studies that compared breastfeeding and formula feeding tended to treat formula as the standard, normal way to feed babies and breastfeeding as the intervention. So the results would describe “benefits and advantages” of breastfeeding.
That can be confusing for mothers. It makes it sound as though formula feeding is the usual, accepted way to feed a baby, and that breastfeeding might have some minor benefits – perhaps like taking a vitamin pill when you are already eating a healthy diet.
But when the comparisons are done correctly, with breastfeeding as the normal way to feed a baby, then the studies show that formula feeding has risks. Formula feeding increases the baby’s risk of a whole range of health issues: SIDS, childhood cancer, respiratory illnesses, digestive illnesses, obesity, high blood pressure, allergies, ear infections and more. Giving your baby formula also increases his risk of not reaching his potential in terms of intelligence and school achievement, of having dental problems and needing orthodontic treatment and of dying during his first year of life.
We’ve become so used to thinking of formula as normal that to hear people talk about the risks of formula feeding can be almost shocking to some parents. But it is more accurate. So that’s the way we present the differences between breastfeeding and formula feeding in this edition of the Womanly Art.