Breastfeeding Isn't Everything. Yeah, I Said That.

First of all, let me point out how amazing it is that I can even write the word breastfeed without utter embarrassment. For a man, that only happens after he gets married and has kids.

Breastfeed. Breastfeed. Breastfeed.

Oh, dear. I wonder what Google's search algorithms will think of this post.

Moving on . . .

Proponents of breastfeeding (there I go again) make a case for the numerous benefits of bre... nursing. It has been shown to have numerous health benefits for both the baby and the mother.

Additionally, many studies also show a connection between breastfeeding (sigh) and future cognitive growth, even to the point of improving your social class. So, nursing your baby will make him smarter, right?

No. Not necessarily.

Breast Milk Is Not the Deciding Factor

It turns out that it is not the act of breastfeeding (....) that helps a baby's cognitive development. What makes the difference are two other actions:
  1. Responding to the child's emotional cues.
  2. Reading to children as early as 9 months of age.
Researcher Ben Gibbs says that breastfeeding mothers tend to do both of these things, more so than mothers who use infant formula.

Responding to a baby's emotional needs helps release "positive" hormones like serotonin and reduce "harsher" ones like cortisone. (This is a topic I discovered and wrote about in Cuddling Is Good for Your Child's Brain.)

You might think that reading to a young child doesn't matter, since he or she doesn't understand complex language. But even a young age, children pay attention to conversations. Reading to a child (even a baby) exposes him or her to a wide and deep vocabulary. (This is a topic I learned more about in The Read-Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease.)

How to Support Young Mothers

Of course, I am not making the case that identical nourishment is provided by mother's milk and infant formula. I think the health benefits are real. (But we must also be careful that we don't denigrate mothers who do not breastfeed.)

I'm just saying that we need to be careful what conclusions we jump to when a correlation is found. Also, if we want to help young parents, encourage them in the importance of nurturing and reading to their babies.

Note: Here are some responses I received.

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