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The Great Debate: Breastfeeding vs. Formula

July 9, 2011

In 2008, Barack Obama defeated John McCain for the office of President of the United States. I voted for Barack Obama for one reason and one reason only, because Barack Obama was breastfed as an infant.  I think the fact that Obama was breastfed while McCain was fed formula was clearly the reason Obama won the election in a landslide.  I also think that Obama will likely get re-elected because thus far all of his would be Republican challengers were fed formula as infants. Did you know that 73% of the CEOs in fortune 500 companies were nursed with breast milk as babies? Did you know that Yale makes applicants check off whether they were breastfed or fed with formula? Did you know an astounding 82% of all those incarcerated for major crimes in the United States were exclusively fed formula as infants?

Since we had Zachary, we have spoken to some strong advocates for breastfeeding who would make you believe the above is true. The doctors, nurses and, of course, lactation consultants have made it sound like we would be abusing our child if we used formula.  We have been told and read in many baby books all about the benefits of breastfeeding. These benefits include: the joyful bonding with your baby;  perfect nutrition only you can provide; cost savings; health benefits for both mother and baby (breast milk has disease-fighting antibodies that can help protect infants from several types of illnesses. And, mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of some health problems, including breast cancer and type 2 diabetes).  It is a wonder that anyone feeds a baby formula based on how much society seems to push breastfeeding thsese days.

The question I have is whether all these benefits that come from breastfeeding actually make any real difference in the long run? Can you pick out which of your friends or co-workers were fed breast milk vs. formula? It is almost impossible to know because in the long run how one was fed as an infant has almost no impact on how they will turn out as an adult.  More important is whether one has a loving and stable family. A loving family who uses formula always beats a crack mom who nurses.  You are also unlikely to ever hear this conversation:

Person 1: “Yo, why is John Smith such a screw up. He seems to never be able to get his act together and I think he spends his weekends huffing paint. Didn’t you grow up near him, what happened?”

Person 2: “I mean we grew up on the same block and went to the same school. I think the only difference is his mom chose to feed him with formula.”

Person 1: “His mom used formula??? I hope she rots in hell.”

I am not saying that breastfeeding doesn’t have benefits or that formula feeding is the equivalent. I just question the difference it makes in the long run. It is interesting to note that during our parents generation formula was the preferred method of feeding babies.  In fact, “by the early 1970s, over 75% of babies in the United States were fed on formulas, almost entirely commercially produced.”  This means that most people who were born then and are now in their 30s were fed by formula. Mothers were actually told that formula was the better alternative. And, many of the biggest advocates for breastfeeding today were fed formula in their infancy.

The thing I hate is the stigma placed on women who choose to use formula. I don’t think women should be made to feel ashamed or guilty for using a perfectly healthy alternative to breastfeeding.

Of course, after I wrote this I did the Google search I should have done before writing and found an article arguing all the benefits adults get from being breastfed as infants including the fact that breastfeeding: prevents obesity; leads to better teeth, a lowered risk of heart disease, a lowered risk of juvenile diabetes, a lowered risk of multiple sclerosis and a lowered risk of asthma and allergies.  But then again, who knows how accurate this one article is or how much your risk is really lowered.


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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 9, 2011 1:47 pm

    People stopped breastfeeding in the 70’s and music is terrible now. I think you’re on to something.

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