Fewer infant deaths for breastfed babies

Fewer infant deaths for breastfed babies

Melanie sent me this study from Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, that says there is a correlation between breastfeeding and lower risk of infant death. I’m no statistician and I don’t understand all the scientific mumbo-jumbo, but the conclusion says:

Overall, children who were ever breastfed had 0.79 ... times the risk of never breastfed children for dying in the postneonatal period. Longer breastfeeding was associated with lower risk. ... Breastfeeding is associated with a reduction in risk for postneonatal death. This large data set allowed robust estimates and control of confounding, but the effects of breast milk and breastfeeding cannot be separated completely from other characteristics of the mother and child. Assuming causality, however, promoting breastfeeding has the potential to save or delay ~720 postneonatal deaths in the United States each year.

The hedge in the conclusion is that they don’t know yet whether there is a direct link to the breastfeeding or whether breastfeeding moms and infants exhibit other behaviors that result in fewer deaths. Of course, this isn’t meant to guilt moms who don’t breastfeed. There are all kinds of reasons why one would choose to breastfeed or not. I’m just offering this as another piece of information to those who are making those decisions.

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  • Other behaviors like not participating in the WIC program to provide free infant formula for welfare mothers.

    I would just hazard a guess that there is a tight link between welfare mothers and infants not getting proper healthcare.


  • This doesn’t surprise me (I don’t know if it’s true either).  There are considerable health benefits and I have seen a number of studies from health care companies realize the financial benefits of encouraging breatfeeding to reduce office visits, hospital stays, and medicine.  This new infomration, to me, just reinforces that.

  • “Breast-fed infants have lower rates of hospital admissions, ear infections, diarrhea, rashes, allergies, and other medical problems than bottle-fed babies.”

    “The primary benefit of breast milk is nutritional. Human milk contains just the right amount of fatty acids, lactose, water, and amino acids for human digestion, brain development, and growth.

    Cow’s milk contains a different type of protein than breast milk. This is good for calves, but human infants can have difficulty digesting it. Bottle-fed infants tend to be fatter than breast-fed infants, but not necessarily healthier.

    Breast-fed babies have fewer illnesses because human milk transfers to the infant a mother’s antibodies to disease. About 80 percent of the cells in breast milk are macrophages, cells that kill bacteria, fungi and viruses. Breast-fed babies are protected, in varying degrees, from a number of illnesses, including pneumonia, botulism, bronchitis, staphylococcal infections, influenza, ear infections, and German measles. Furthermore, mothers produce antibodies to whatever disease is present in their environment, making their milk custom-designed to fight the diseases their babies are exposed to as well.

    A breast-fed baby’s digestive tract contains large amounts of Lactobacillus bifidus, beneficial bacteria that prevent the growth of harmful organisms. Human milk straight from the breast is always sterile, never contaminated by polluted water or dirty bottles, which can also lead to diarrhea in the infant.

    Human milk contains at least 100 ingredients not found in formula. No babies are allergic to their mother’s milk, although they may have a reaction to something the mother eats. If she eliminates it from her diet, the problem resolves itself.

    Sucking at the breast promotes good jaw development as well. It’s harder work to get milk out of a breast than a bottle, and the exercise strengthens the jaws and encourages the growth of straight, healthy teeth….”


    and that’s just for the baby. Lots of benefits for mom as well…

  • MB,

    By all means, do what is right for you and your child.  I do not mean to press against any method that a family chooses is correct, as they are in the best position to judge what works, not me (or the FDA).

    Formula, though, should not be condemned out of hand.  Every study my wife and I have read, shows virtually no difference in health benefits, and in fact a greater range of nutrition in formula than milk.  What many studies from La Leche skip, is normalization to the income and education levels of the parent.  When those factors a put in, the supposed differences in disease fighting go away.  In fact, the numbers I have read lead me to believe that the key to health benefit is spending more time with the infant, which seems logical. 


  • John,

    If you read anything I’ve said as a condemnation of formula or those who use it, then you’ve misread my intention.

    You and I agree, parents must decide for themselves what works best for their family situation, what is the best they can provide for their children.

    I can certainly believe that women with lower incomes and education could have poorer nutrition which could diminish the nutritional and immunological benefits of formula over breastmilk.

    My conclusion from that data would be to encourage better nutrition for mothers, a good end in itself, to boost the benefits of breastmilk for infants. For one thing, formula is expensive and breastmilk is free, barring the added expense of additional calories needed by the mother. Teaching mothers about good nutrition and the necessity of proper diet while breastfeeding and helping them to obtain such nutrition would seem to me to be the optimal path.

    I do find the argument persuasive that, mother’s nutrition being optimal for breastfeeding, breastmilk is superior to formula. After all, God designed the human body to work in a particular way. I am a bit dubious that our best science is able to completely match the benefits of breastfeeding.

    I do think it’s amazing what a good job scientists have been able to do, I just don’t think it’s accurate to say it’s just as good.

    It seems reasonable that a mother’s body is able to react to the environment and change the content of breastmilk to match a baby’s particular needs. Which is why colostrum is provided for newborns and a few days later milk comes in. Studies have shown that mother’s milk includes antibodies for diseases that both she and the infant have been exposed to. Formula simply can’t do that.

    I understand that there are many reasons why for some mothers formula might be a better choice, or the only choice and I don’t mean to make any woman feel guilty for her choice.

    But I do think that the claim that formula is just as good as breastmilk is overstating the case. And I think that many women are not informed of both the benefits of breastfeeding and the necessity of proper diet for those benefits to accrue. I think it a shame that women are so ill informed and that expensive formula is pushed so heavily on under-educated and impovrished women instead of improving the mother’s nutrition. I also believe that if more women were better informed, they might decide to endure the pain and difficulty that breastfeeding often entails and push on. (I know whereof I speak on the pain part, I had a very hard time for the first month or so, a great deal of pain as my daughter and I learned how to get her to latch on peoperly.)

    I do agree that a great benefit is in spending more time with a baby and that a mother who does choose formula should take care that she spends time holding her child and not just propping the bottle for the baby. I also would agree that bottle feeding can have an added benefit for fathers, letting them enjoy the wonderful bonding experience of nourishing their babies and letting them share in the work of caring for the baby.

  • John,

    I can and will cite study after study that shows you’re wrong. But if you’re going to say that every study I’ve ever seen about the benefits of breastfeeding over formula are rendered moot when “normalizing for education and economics”, you’re going to have to prove it.

    Cite some evidence or I’m just going to accuse you of making unfounded assertions.