In The News: Breast IS NOT Best

In the past 24 hours, some of the country's most trusted *cough* publications have run miraculously misleading headlines, surrounding a study which has failed to find a link between breastfeeding and later IQ.
 
It's unsurprising, that the most breastfeeding-negative headlines to come out of this, have come from The Sun, a newspaper which sells increased volumes as a result of it's willingness to use female breasts as sexual property. I am never going to be one to deny breast's roles in sexual pleasures, or to say that the female shape isn't a lovely thing - that's not what I'm getting at. I'm simply saying that it doesn't benefit The Sun to publicise the boob's primary purpose, to facilitate breastfeeding. Whether you choose to breastfeed or not, you don't develop breasts for a sexual purpose, that would be your clitoris, you develop  breasts to feed your future offspring. That is why your boobs are there - it just isn't in The Sun's favour to run with that as a headline, so instead, they go with It turns out breast ISN'T best after all. (from The Sun official Facebook page).
 
Now I should add that they aren't alone, The Mirror and Daily Mail, both papers with a reputation for commenting on a woman's sexual appearance and calling it news, ran similar headlines.
 
I was going to let this slide but then I though nah, because I know that a lot of Sun, Mirror and Mail readers, despite their papers constantly publishing content which is demonstrated to be entirely fictional, still believe every article they read and thus I can see the line "have you heard, they've proved that formula feeding is as good as breastfeeding" being uttered in nail salons up and down the country.
 
For once, the actual content of the pieces is accurate. If you haven't seen: a team of researchers have demonstrated, with a very reliable study (large case group over long period) that breastfeeding has little to no effect on future intelligence in children whose IQ was tested at 2 years and beyond.
 
These are interesting findings, whether you breastfeed or not, whether you're pro or even anti breast, or whether, like most people, you really couldn't give a damn - because for a long time the idea that breastfeeding creates more intelligent children has been upheld by the medical, scientific and parenting communities. This particular study, which has come out of Goldsmith's University, is one of the largest conducted on the subject and seems to completely blow apart these past conceptions.
 
The study was actually part of a much wider range of data collection which closely studied twins born in the mid nineties, to see how much of their future characteristics were supposedly determined by their biology, and how much by their environment - the old nature vs. nurture debate.
 
I have absolutely no objection to the findings of these studies, and others like it, being published in popular media - I think it's great that scientific advances are made widely available and not limited to those reading journals - what I object to here, are the tabloid headlines, which, for those who can't be arsed to read an entire article (a lot of people), could be grossly misleading. Using them on social media as The Sun have done here also means that their click-through rate goes through the roof, whilst they don't actually deliver the information they suggested they were going to.
 
This study has not demonstrated that breastfeeding carries no more benefits than bottle feeding, or that formula feeding is it's equal. I for one, as a breastfeeding Mother, am not in the least bit surprised. I've always been very sceptical of any link found between breastfeeding and intelligence, from personal observation and from my own, basic understanding of anthropology. I'm pretty sure that the findings of this study are accurate and I've always thought that intelligence, in terms of IQ, which is often mirrored by academic performance, is environment and/or genetic based.
 
Of course, we ought to make a point of saying that if IQ tests were the only way to measure intelligence, we'd all be doomed. I for one wouldn't consider myself entirely unintelligent, but I fail miserably at IQ tests because they're often quite numerical in structure, and that isn't where my brain's strengths lay. If you excel at maths, chances are these tests will indicate you've a very high IQ. If you're a talented writer, poet, negotiator, musician, artist or philosopher, you'll probably score surprisingly low in an IQ test, compared to how intelligent a majority of people would perceive you to be. Meanwhile, most people working in construction industries including anything from brick laying to plumbing, quite often have the sort of brain that performs very well in IQ tests, but society seems to make assumptions that people following those career paths are of a lower intelligence than, for example, a professor of theology. So if the children were only measured in terms of their IQ at regular intervals, this tells us very little about the intelligence as a broader concept. As a rule, I'd say we're all particularly intelligent in our own ways, whilst one of us may be able to produce incredibly detailed technical drawings, another may be able to execute the perfect haircut every time - each achievement requires a certain pattern of brain activity that's as individual to one person as to the next, and is unlikely swayed by the manner in which that person was fed as an infant. I have a friend who can speak seven languages fluently and has an incredible crossword completing ability, but is absolutely awful in any social circumstance and can not instigate conversation to save his life, and emotional and social intelligence carry a considerable value in modern life.
 
So yes, a study from a top London university which looked at a large sample group over a long time has found that the previously widely held belief that breastfed babies grow up to be more intelligent adults, is inaccurate, in terms of that baby's ability to perform well in IQ tests, as they grow.
 
What the headlines in particular don't hint towards is that the studies do nothing to discredit the well documented evidence that breast milk contains 3,000,000 germ-fighting antibodies - per teaspoonful. Or that breastfeeding lessens a woman's likelihood of contracting a number of different forms of cancer. Or that breast milk is the only natural food that you can give your baby before six months. Or that breastfed babies are less likely to suffer from eczema. Or that breast milk contains unique fatty acids that make a baby sleepy. Or that breast milk is easier digested than infant formula. Or that breastfeeding Mothers are less likely to suffer post natal depression... the list goes on. And on. And on. 
 
Unfortunately, though, there will still be Sun readers up and down the country repeating that line; "have you heard, they've proved that formula feeding is better than breastfeeding?"
 
Check out thealphaparent.com for more breastfeeding infographics
 
 
 

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