nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
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Monday, April 5, 2010

$Billions And Lives To Be Saved By Breastfeeding. And If Pigs Could Fly...

Don't get me wrong, there are benefits to breastfeeding.  Women should know about them, but also should know it's not the right answer for every mother.

We've known for a long time that breastfeeding infants confers benefits.  There are antibodies in breast milk.  The product is....well....designed for humans, unlike cow's milk.

(A colleague once told me that cow's milk was for baby cows.  He was arguing that adults have no milk requirement, and was defending wine consumption.  But you get the point.)

The benefits of breastfeeding translate into improved health for the infants:  fewer infections, less risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), etc.

But this study is one of those notional, "central planning" kinds of thought experiments.  They depend on almost all women doing the same thing, for the same length of time, and impose a moral imperative that creates conflict with people's other priorities (like earning a living:  how healthy will your baby be if you have can't provide?)

In an LA Times article, the lead author does say that people "shouldn't blame mothers because they are often not supported well..."  But notice that the assumption is that with proper support, 6 months of breastfeeding is appropriate.  So, the undercurrent for this article is social justice, not science.

For Onion Peelers:
The study examined projected costs if 80% and 90% of US families could comply with the recommendation to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months. They excluded mothers with type 2 diabetes (because of insufficient data).  They then calculated costs of diseases with risk ratios that favored breastfeeding from national data sources.  Their math indicates the US would save $13 billion per year and prevent an excess 911 (mostly infant) deaths, ($10.5 billion and 741 deaths at 80% compliance).

The "notional" and unrealistic aspects of this are that there are situations where breastfeeding, and it's consequences, are not optimal.  The study makes no comparison of disease due to contaminated breast milk, lost wages,  suboptimal milk production or feeding problems, etc.

So, we need to take this Cloud Nine version of breastfeeding as a justice and national priority issue with a grain of salt.

The real lesson is that breastfeeding can help individual mothers, and can help individual babies.  I leave it to the Moms to decide what works best.


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