Breast is Best: it's the breastfeeding slogan that's presented as a universal truth. Breastfeeding is overhyped, oversold, and overrated.
So says Courtney Jung, a political science professor based at the University of Toronto, in a controversial new book based on her study of hundreds of scientific papers on the subject. The pervasiveness and support for breastfeeding has been chalked up as a feminist victory.
‘Breastfeeding is not enshrined in law or controlled by doctors or midwives, but 'Breast is Best' has become so toxic that women are policing each other.’
AdvertisementProfessor Jung says she decided to breastfeed her children because she believed the "conventional wisdom surrounding breastfeeding".Because she's a political scientist, she also decided to try to find out how much of the conventional wisdom was true, "only to find that much of it was far removed from what scientists actually knew" to be true.
For many women, 'Breast is Best' isn't the empowering message its proponents claim. Rather, it's robbed women of the very thing we were fighting for: bodily autonomy. It gives women only two options: to breastfeed and be a good mother or to bottle feed and be a bad mother.
There is strong evidence that breastfeeding has no impact on obesity or type 1 diabetes, asthma, allergies, dental cavities, or the following types of cancer: acute non-lymphoblastic leukaemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, central nervous system cancers, malignant germ cell tumours, juvenile bone tumours, and other solid cancers.
"The evidence of other long-term health benefits, such as reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, or Type 2 diabetes, is either weak or inconclusive."
Recent research suggests that the benefits of breastfeeding have been overstated. When socioeconomic factors are taken into account there's no difference in the health and development of breastfed babies versus those who are bottle-fed.
If breastfeeding improves cognitive development, some experts believe it is because of intense mother-child interaction at the breast, not because of the chemical composition of human milk. Professor Jung also argues that some women feel immense pressure to breastfeed, even when the baby isn't getting enough milk.