Shocking New Research Shows Women Can Breastfeed Successfully!!

Disclaimer: I tried to write this post straight. I really tried. But the snark kept rearing its head, so I stopped fighting it.

Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a stunning bit of research earlier this month. Through a longitudinal analysis (meaning that the researchers followed one group over time) of mothers and their breastfeeding babies, the researchers concluded that…wait for it…exclusive breastfeeding can support human infants for the first six months!


Ok, let’s start with the methodology. The study wasn’t very big — 41 total mother/baby pairs lasted the whole 25 weeks. That decreases the extent to which study results can be generalized to the population (yeah, because before a few doctors sat around watching 41 babies grow for six months, there was no evidence that humans could feed their infants effectively, just like Every. Other. Mammal. Does.) From a scientific perspective, that sample size is an issue, but there are bigger fish to fry here.

The data collected confound me. Researchers measured the quantity of milk the babies drank, and compared average caloric intake to “references for energy requirements.” Um, really? Was that necessary? Because the authors also note that the infants grew normally per World Health Organization (WHO) charts. Let me say that again: the babies grew normally. But despite the simplicity and accuracy of using WHO growth chart comparisons to determine whether the infants in question were getting enough food, the researchers wanted energy intake data. This involved using radioisotope-labeled water (no, this is not dangerous, but it is expensive), a variety of analytical techniques (expensive in terms of equipment required), and many, many statistical techniques (basically math problems, which are expensive in terms of time) to…arrive at the conclusion that the babies were eating enough. What a misallocation of medical research dollars (which are limited in availability to begin with). Some other researcher didn’t get funding for his/her study so that these guys could feed kids radio-labeled water to determine what anyone with a scale, a measuring tape, and access to WHO’s website could have told them. (Shaking my head. Sometimes science makes me sad).

But my problems with this study run deeper than the way it was conducted. There’s a common notion propagated by the popular media, society, formula companies, and so on that most women can’t produce enough milk to breastfeed, and/or that human babies need something besides milk to thrive. The complete analysis of the extent to which this is balderdash is too much to get into here, but suffice it to say, human babies all over the world thrive on nothing but breast milk up to (and often well past) the six month mark. This research (together with the attitudes that necessitated it) is evidence that we’re “outsciencing” ourselves (there’s a word you don’t often hear). By this, I mean we sometimes lose sight of the fact that while, yes, we are NEAT animals that do clever things with our paws, we’re ANIMALS nonetheless. We EVOLVED from other animals and maintained the traits and abilities that fostered survival. We never drove the cave-minivan to the cave-superstore to buy cave-formula and cave-cereal (with iron!) for the cave-4-month-old. What did we do? We nursed our infants, just as chimpanzees do, just as dogs do, just as bats do. And you know what? If MOST women weren’t capable of supporting infants with breast milk, humans as a species wouldn’t have thrived. But we did. And substitute or supplement infant food is very, very new in the grand scheme of human evolution.

It’s a shame that so many women convince themselves, before or during lactation, that they can’t do it (a few legitimately can’t make enough milk, but this is rare). It’s a shame that society supports this notion by giving formula as gifts at baby showers, and that hospitals send new mamas home with bags of formula samples. It’s a shame that so many pediatricians push cereal at the four-month visit, despite WHO recommendations to wait until six months of age. It’s a bigger shame, though, that researchers lend credence to all of this by formally studying something (using statistical techniques that miss the forest for the trees) that should be as obvious as the force of gravity. What’s next, a study to determine whether the concentration of oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere is adequate to maintain cellular function in humans? We should have people inhale labeled oxygen and then measure radiolabeled waste output!

There’s another shame in this study, though, in the way it might be interpreted by physicians, mothers, and childcare gurus. No doubt some will interpret the data to mean that exclusive breastfeeding can support a baby for UP TO six months, rather than that exclusive breastfeeding can support a baby for AT LEAST six months. This distinction may seem insignificant (after all, even the most fervent of breastfeeding mothers usually start a few solids — even if just for entertainment purposes — at six months of age). However, the connotative difference is important because the former interpretation (the one I suspect we’ll see floating around the interwebs) suggests that if all goes well, you’ll probably be able to nurse your baby successfully for as many as six months. The latter is a much stronger assertion: there is generally no medical reason to supplement a baby with solids or formula for six months. It’s worth pointing out that the researchers didn’t continue the investigation beyond 25 weeks, so there’s no way to say (based upon this study) how long a human baby could go on milk alone.

Well, hey, in the end, thank goodness this study came along and demonstrated that breastfeeding can meet the nutritional needs of an infant. What a relief. I’d been wondering lately whether my cave-ancestors might have given their babies cave-cereal to keep them thriving (and whether I should be doing the same), while here I am just bumbling along, trying to raise my baby like…a mammal.

Nielsen et al. Adequacy of Milk Intake During Exclusive Breastfeeding: A Longitudinal Study. Pediatrics. 2011 Sep 19. [Epub ahead of print]. Accessed 2 Oct 2011.


63 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Carolyn (temysmom)
    Oct 03, 2011 @ 18:06:14

    I breastfed my three daughters exclusively for at least 6 months and then went on to nurse them each for two years. Even in times pre-bottle, women either nursed just fine or found themselves a wet-nurse. Either way, babies were fed on breastmilk only. I hate that so many doctors and women immediately grab for the bottle without even trying.


    • Jem
      Oct 24, 2011 @ 20:10:08

      This isn’t really true. Babies have been supplemented with crap for thousands of years… pap, herbal teas & various other concoctions.


  2. Catherine McCormack
    Oct 04, 2011 @ 08:02:33

    This made me smile. I breast fed both my children past their first birthdays….no medals and it doesn’t make me special but as you say it does make me a mammal. I am stunned everyday by the number of women who apparently can’t (can’t!) breast feed. Here in SA the number has reached staggeringly high numbers and in response I wrote this post. I hope you don’t mind me leaving the link…my take was slightly different to yours and I was sadly not brave enough to leave the first, second and third draft sarcasm. Nicely done!


    • SquintMom
      Oct 04, 2011 @ 18:25:36

      Thanks for your response! I don’t mind the link at all, and will look forward to checking out your blog. I wonder to what extent breastfeeding as an art has been partially lost because so many of us aren’t exposed to breastfeeding women on a regular basis. It’s not an activity we can learn by reading, but we can learn by watching. I know for my part, I wish I’d been exposed to more examples of breastfeeding before I had to do it myself; it would have helped immensely. One thing I do to help combat the lack of breastfeeding exposure so many women have (though I know not everyone is comfortable doing this) is to breastfeed in public without a cover. I’m very modest and I don’t “let it all hang out,” but I do go about my business without putting my baby or my breast under a blanket. If even one mama (or woman who will one day become a mama) learns a little about mechanics, feels more comfortable with the idea of breastfeeding her own baby, or thinks, “Hey, I could do that someday” in response to seeing me, I feel I will have done a good deed!


  3. Hannah @A Mother in Israel
    Oct 24, 2011 @ 07:07:11

    There are a few additional reasons why some women in modern times have problems with breastfeeding:
    1. Giving birth at an older age.
    2. Fertility treatments, so women with hormonal issues affecting breastfeeding are more likely to give birth than in earlier generations.
    3. Health issues including obesity.
    4. Cosmetic breast surgery.
    5. Birth intervention and mother/baby separation


    • Robin
      Oct 24, 2011 @ 20:10:29

      What does obesity have anything to do with it? I’ve never saw that excuse. I’m obese and have been bfing for 5 months now and not stopping anytime soon!

      As far as the original post, I agree society has lost a lot of breastfeeding information/support because of FF. But we are reclaiming our role as breastfeeding mothers and the more information that’s shared the better informed other mothers will be!


      • Hannah @A Mother in Israel
        Oct 24, 2011 @ 21:38:53

        I’m glad you didn’t have any problems. I don’t mean to imply that all or even most obese women have problems. The reason some obese women can have problems is that the baby stimulates a nerve during breastfeeding that signals the brain to release oxytocin and eject milk. If there is too much padding it can interfere. I also know many obese women who have nursed one or more babies with no problems.

      • Jenrose
        Oct 25, 2011 @ 23:30:12

        Too much.. PADDING?

        You’ve got to be kidding me.

        I’ve been fat most of my life, and make plenty of milk for my babies.

        In some women, the things that contribute to obesity CAN impact milk supply. Thyroid issues, for example. But too much padding. Oh please.

      • Roadfamily6now
        Oct 25, 2011 @ 17:44:00

        I agree. why on earth does weight have to be continually dragged into everything. Fat or no fat, women can breastfeed and do it very well.
        case in point: I have breastfeed for 6 1/2 years straight (multiple children) and never once had an issue due to my being overweight.

    • Paula
      Oct 24, 2011 @ 20:20:46

      I gave birth to twins 3 months before my 41st birthday. I had fertility treatments. I am significantly overweight. I had a C-section, and my babies were separated from me for nearly two hours after birth. But at nearly 1 year old, they are still nursing, even though I work full time outside the home (and I nursed my first until well past her 4th birthday). In fact, I am producing enough milk for at least one more baby, and actively looking for a place to donate my significant stash.

      Maybe I’m some weird exception, but I don’t think so.


      • SquintMom
        Oct 24, 2011 @ 20:38:32

        Way to go, Paula! You are an inspiration. By the way, the Human Milk Banking Association of North America is desperately seeking donors ( Some of the banks will work with you even if you’re not in the same city. I found that some of the banks are stricter about meds than others (I’m on a low-dose asthma inhaler, and the Texas banks didn’t want my milk, but the San Jose bank did), so it’s worth checking with more than one if you take prescription or OTC pharmaceuticals.

      • Hannah @A Mother in Israel
        Oct 24, 2011 @ 21:49:05

        My list wasn’t meant to be a list of women who are likely to have problems. It’s a list of “modern” risk factors that can theoretically cause problems with milk supply in a small percentage of women.
        There are many reasons for infertility that have no effect on breastfeeding and milk production.
        I’ve nursed kids until age 4 and surely could not have donated extra. 🙂
        So I do not think you are an exception–like SquintMom says the vast majority of women can make plenty of milk, including women in the categories I listed.

      • Allie's mum
        Oct 25, 2011 @ 01:30:47

        How fantastic Paula! You are an inspiration 😀

    • Ashley @ C is for Cockerham
      Oct 24, 2011 @ 20:51:59

      Still EBFing my 6.5mo old after cosmetic breast surgery done 8 years ago. Maybe I’m an exception to Hannah’s list above too, but it can be done.


      • Hannah @A Mother in Israel
        Oct 24, 2011 @ 21:50:30

        That’s great, Ashley. See my replies to Paula and Robin–I didn’t mean to imply that all of the women in those categories will have problems.

      • mamaZ
        Oct 25, 2011 @ 02:05:49

        I think what Hannah is rrying to get at ladies is that there can be many different complications for different women. Though you didnt have any problems there are some women that for example the separation would have caused problems. And maybe not just the separation is at play it could be a combination of the separation and lack or resources. But whatever the issue its diffeeent for everyone. My youngest is 6 months and we are still going strong. My oldest didnt go so well but thats for another story. My point is she was just giving some examples of the difficulties some, not all, women have. And sometimes its a combination of circumstances.

      • Hannah @A Mother in Israel
        Oct 25, 2011 @ 18:04:38

        Yes, thank you MamaZ! Breastfeeding is a wonderful experience, but we do moms a disservice if we assume that any mom can do it if she tries hard enough.

    • Beatriz
      Oct 25, 2011 @ 01:54:26

      this is true. In my case, I “beat” overcoming my obesity to breastfed. I also had birth intervention and mother/baby separation and we are 3 months going strong. It still can be done!


  4. denyia
    Oct 24, 2011 @ 20:14:18

    very funny study/science…!
    the Coran has not forgotten this topic either and the reply to your question on how long a human baby can go on milk alone is there as well…2years!
    read the Coran you will get many answers among those about breast feeding as well!!


    • SquintMom
      Oct 24, 2011 @ 20:45:27

      Thanks for your comment! Unfortunately, while human milk is an excellent exclusive food for infants under approximately 6 months of age, the research suggests that many babies really do need some solids* starting around that time. Breast milk (even in a well-fed mother with good iron stores) is notoriously low in iron (see for a great article on this topic). Babies should, of course, receive breast milk (or formula, if that’s the route the mother has chosen) as a major source of calories and nutrients until their first birthday, per the AAP. After a year of age, breast milk continues to be a great source of nutrition for babies as they expand their solid repertoire, and deserves to be included in the diet for at least a year, ideally two (per the WHO), and as long thereafter as both mother and child desire. The fact that breast milk typically no longer provides exclusive nutrition for a baby after around 6 months of age isn’t the only reason to start adding solids in during the second half of the first year; babies generally demonstrate a great interest in mama’s solid food around that time, and feeling/smelling/tasting/chewing food provides them with developmental opportunities. I’d have to say that while I agree that milk is a great component of a baby’s diet for two or more years, there’s no science to support the notion (and in fact, there’s science to oppose it) that they should do two years on nothing but milk.

      *I want to add that these numbers are averages; some babies do not appear to want solids until much closer to a year, even if they’re routinely offered. I think the key, though, is offering those solids so that the baby has the option.


      • L'Shelle
        Oct 25, 2011 @ 15:21:29

        First I want to thank you for your posts and I happily share them with my nursing group which meets every week. I just wanted to comment on the EBF for 2yrs., I do not advocate EBF for two or more years because of nutritional needs, however, I do have many friends from other countries (I live in the USA) who were EBF for the first 12 months and had NO health issues, so for that reason I do not agree that breastmilk no longer provides all the nutrients a baby needs after 6 months. I agree SOME babies show an interest in solid foods and that it DOES provide them with developmental opportunities. I do want to stress however, that there have been recent studies in the USA that show that “solid foods” should NOT be introduced before a baby cuts their first teeth, this is the sign to Mothers that your baby now has the necessary digestive enzymes in their gut to process and digest food (the studies conclude that solid foods before the cutting of the first teeth can lead to digestive problems later in life). A recent study (results were released in September 2011) done by the AMA (American Medical Association) and APA (American Pediatric Association)found a correlation between grains (ie. cereals: rice/wheat/barley etc.) being introduced to infants before 10 to 12 months of age with gastrointestinal issues (GERD/Acid Reflux/Gluten Sensitivity/Celiac Disease etc.) The study was done by scientist at Ohio State University and University of Connecticut, and the adults in the study, which had gastrointestinal/digestive issues, over 90% of the test subjects had received cereal prior to 10 months, some as early as 3 months. A babies first foods should be fruits and vegetables until 10 months when their system is used to processing solids before introducing grains (which are slow to digest). I have an 18 yr. old son who was EBF til 6 mo when he cut teeth, I feed him fruits and Veggies along with BF (I did give grits [which is made from corn] at 8 mo), at 11 mo I introduced grains (rice/wheat/oats etc.). My son has never had digestive issues, no ear infections and has never taken anti-biotics and I attribute this to waiting till he had teeth before introducing solids and waiting to introduce grains later. I currently have a soon to be 6 mo old (on Oct 28, 2011) who shows interest in solids, but has NO TEETH, so I will wait till he has cut his teeth before I start solids that way I know he will be able to digest them properly.
        **I in no way am here to tell other Mothers what to do, I am a strong advocate of Mother Knows Best for her child, I am posting merely to inform other Mothers of the experience I have had and the research that I have done on the subject of BF and feeding of our precious babies.
        ** side note: I do want to stress something a lot of Mothers may not be aware of, when you do introduce solids, watch the amount of bananas you give (often this is chosen as the first solid food because it is soft and babies often like the sweet taste)because bananas are binding(cause constipation in little ones), a better and more nutritious alternative is sweet potato/yams which are high in vit.A, potassium, and fiber…In conclusion I just want to say thanks again for your posts, and to the Moms…Hope I have given some valuable info or at least some things to consider and Happy Feeding!!! 🙂

  5. Rachel Dowling
    Oct 24, 2011 @ 20:21:45

    Hannah giving birth at an older age doesn’t impede breastfeeding. I gave birth to my son at forty-two, and I breastfed my son exclusively for the first six months, and now at two years old he still nurses a lot.


  6. Tara
    Oct 24, 2011 @ 20:29:00

    Loved the Snark 🙂
    A lot of women also say they “don’t have enough milk” as the reason they choose not to breast feed. I think this really perpetuates the myth (oh my sister/aunt/neighbor didn’t have enough milk maybe i don’t either). I know of several moms who choose not to breastfeed for a variety of reasons, but maybe because of guilt or social stigma tell people that they simply “couldn’t”.


  7. Mira
    Oct 24, 2011 @ 20:38:55

    I totally agree that they approached this whole study a little backward. Three cheers for mammalian evolution!


  8. Stephanie Casemore
    Oct 24, 2011 @ 20:46:12

    Great post! Enjoyed the “snark”! This kind of study only serves to drive home the fact that we as a society continues to distance ourself from the biological basis of our being. As you so wonderfully point out, we’re mammals and breastfeeding is only what our biology expects of us in order to nurture our babies, and it is what our babies expect once they are born in order to continue the nourishment they’ve have already been receiving in the womb. This type of study is a waste of money and only serves to make women question their abilities all the more.


  9. Tricia
    Oct 24, 2011 @ 20:47:48

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this: “oh, I couldn’t breastfeed. I tried, but I just didn’t make enough.” If that were true? Then low supply would be an EPIDEMIC in our country. I hear it at least once a week, mainly because I nurse my baby in the sling most days, in public. I also think that lack of education about breastfeeding and HOW newborns actually nurse contributes to this. So many women think they’re not producing enough because their newborn is nursing every hour, instead of every 2-3, which is a myth many uneducated medical professionals perpetuate. Anyway, I’m so happy that you wrote this post; I’ve wanted to write something similar for years.


    • Erika
      Oct 24, 2011 @ 22:27:45

      It is not always lack of supply that stops women. It can be latching problems, premature babies and a variety of other reasons. I find it so unfair everytime I hear someone make a statement like that. I was not successful breastfeeding my daughter and I don’t need other people judging me, or claiming I made excuses or gave up. I pumped for my daughter for the first six months, but it did not happen naturally.


      • SquintMom
        Oct 25, 2011 @ 03:31:39

        I’m sorry to hear you’ve been judged. That’s something no mother should have to go through, and it certainly wasn’t the goal of the research presented in this article (or the article itself) to pass judgment on women who *can’t* breastfeed. The research, recall, demonstrated only that breast milk can be a complete source of nutrition for up to 6 months. The researchers did not attempt to demonstrate that all women could (or should) breastfeed. Kudos to you for your incredible efforts on your daughter’s behalf! What a lovely thing you did for her. 🙂

  10. Jeanette
    Oct 24, 2011 @ 20:50:13

    Haha, great post – I loved it! 🙂

    I really think we need that study on the Earth’s oxygen level and cellular function. We should petition for that one. Yeah. 😆


  11. Jorie
    Oct 24, 2011 @ 21:24:28

    I enjoyed your post – and I also hate the numbers floating around regarding breastfeeding and how they are so often totally misrepresented and misunderstood (see recent headline in baby mag, “Breaking the habit” which says “any time after 6 months!”). Anyway, I wanted to comment on the low supply thing. I think that more than 3-5% of women suffer low supply – but that is because low supply comes about in two flavors. One flavor is the unavoidable – hormonal issues, insufficient glandular tissue, breast trauma, etc. The other, more common but equally real is SITUATIONAL low supply – which can still be very hard to correct! Dyads who get off to a rough start, poor milk transfer (which can happen for quite a variety of reasons, some easier to correct than others), birth trauma, early supplementation, scheduling, overuse or early use of pacifiers, separation of mom and baby…these things can all LEAD to low supply. And not all women have an equally easy time increasing supply once the damage is done. Let’s not beat up women who say they “didn’t make enough.” It doesn’t mean that they aren’t physically capable, ever – but it also doesn’t mean that they made up this problem, either.


    • SquintMom
      Oct 24, 2011 @ 21:32:08

      I agree wholeheartedly with your comment “Let’s not beat up women who…”; there’s no cause to guilt another mom over the choices she’s made, and I think that there are many factors that go into a woman’s decision to breastfeed or formula feed. However, I think there’s a great deal of social programming that convinces pregnant women they will not be able to make enough milk (before the fact), and our perceptions can create reality. In my perfect world, breastfeeding would be socially normalized and women would be exposed to it routinely. They’d receive the social message that making milk is something the body is designed to do, and something the body does (under the vast majority of circumstances) with easy and fluency. They’d have the support of their hospital or birthing team in initiating breastfeeding, but would not be shamed or bullied if they decided against it. They’d be free from advertising and commercial pressure to switch to formula when the going gets tough, and would instead have access to breastfeeding support, and again, they’d not be shamed or bullied if they decided it wasn’t for them (or were unable to get the hang of it). In my perfect world, all women would receive SUPPORT instead of PRESSURE, regardless of whether they chose to formula- or breastfeed. But alas…

      I also want to add the reminder that the research presented here did not center on whether all women *could* breastfeed (and of course, not all women can). Instead, the research showed that for those women who were able to (and chose to) breastfeed, breast milk was capable of providing complete nutrition for six months.


    • Sky
      Oct 25, 2011 @ 00:48:54

      I work in a university town, with a wide spectrum of people, from very conservative creationists to very liberal evolutionist. I put it to them that either you can argue that god got this right, or that evolution got this right- but I have yet to hear a decent argument for why breastfeeding shouldn’t work the vast majority of the time!

      I work from this principle- feed the baby, move the milk, use as few steps to accomplish these tasks as possible as possible. Good support, minimal separation of the mother baby dyad, and good evaluation and well timed appropriate teaching and intervention on clinical indication, as needed, are all key to increasing the confidence and competence of our mom and babe pairs, and minimizing those heartbreaking stories of moms who stopped nursing, usually due to deficits in support or qualified care.


  12. Joanna
    Oct 24, 2011 @ 21:50:14

    SquintMom can likely help me with the references but there is credible research supporting the above list of issues that impact milk supply. Being obese can affect hormone production and response to prolactin; breast surgery, well, I think that’s self-explanatory and not all surgeons are created alike. And many women undergo breast surgery without considering the impact on breastfeeding. It’s wonderful to hear from those of you for whom nursing did not prove to be difficult despite factors that are known to have an impact (obesity, hormonal/fertility factors, age, caesarean delivery) and that likely speaks to your own determination and commitment to breastfeeding, something that factors in hugely (not to say that it’s a woman’s lack of commitment that explains all BF problems but it is a factor when many women are ready to switch to the bottle on the second night or even after the first breastfeed). The argument that because something wasn’t true for you makes it untrue is a weak argument that doesn’t stand. I am so tired of hearing people say, “I was fed formula and I’m healthy as a horse!”. That doesn’t mean formula is a great food for all babies, does it?


  13. TxMommy
    Oct 24, 2011 @ 23:14:00

    I recieved completely the opposite kind of pressure that you seem to think most women recieve. Since the birth of my first son I was bombarded with breast-is-best “encouragement”. First, let me say that I completely agree with the breast-is-best philosophy. There’s no question………the brest is best. But, unlike my cave women ancestors, I had to work a 40 hour a week and pump when I could. My milk supply inevitabely got low and I couldn’t sustain my child on the milk I was producing. I had to supplement with formula and was made to feel like a bad mother by the BF-only mommies of the world. No mother should be made to feel they are doing wrong by their child because they formula feed. Now, with my second child I stayed home produced more than enough milk for him and at 4 months he started grabbing for food and throwing fits if he was not given solid food at dinner just like everyone else. So, at 4-months baby #2 started getting solid food, and I do not feel bad about giving it to him.


    • SquintMom
      Oct 24, 2011 @ 23:56:47

      Actually, I think women feel pressure in BOTH directions (see my post on cyberbullying), and I think it’s awful that any woman would have her decisions questioned by anyone else. Ideally, women would have support, not pressure, regardless of their choices. I work too, so I know how hard it is. Kudos to you for choosing the best approach for you and your baby!


      • SquintMom
        Oct 25, 2011 @ 03:34:18

        I also want to add the reminder (as I did above) that the research presented here did not center on whether all women *could* breastfeed (and of course, not all women can). Instead, the research showed that for those women who were able to (and chose to) breastfeed, breast milk was capable of providing complete nutrition for six months.

  14. Carla D'Anna
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 00:21:17

    ” What’s next, a study to determine whether the concentration of oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere is adequate to maintain cellular function in humans? ”

    Both brilliant and hilarious.

    Thank you.


  15. SaraC
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 00:57:17

    Love your post! I was pressured very strongly by my nurse and then by my family doctor to give my son formula. My family doc actually got mad and said “what is your problem with formula?” I stuck to my plan and two weeks later at my appointment my son was up two pounds. She never again bugged my about it. It bothered me so much that if I didn’t feel so strongly about it (from reading “so that’s why they’re for”) I would have supplemented. Instead I breastfed exclusively for 6 months and then breastfed along with solids until 9 months. I’m currently pregnant and hoping to go longer this time. Out of the 9 moms in an out of my hospital room while i was there, all but two were convinced to supplement, sad really!


  16. SaraC
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 00:59:01

    Sorry, that book was “So That’s What They’re For!” Very informative and entertaining!


  17. Lukesmom22
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 01:07:38

    I think that its interesting how many moms who have breast fed are so offended by a mother who states that she is unable to breast feed. I am a RN and mother and know that while it is rare that a woman cannot produce enougg milk, breastfeeding can be difficult for a number of reasons. Most of the time if a woman has the support and education to continue to try even if it isnt easy at first, she is able to produce sufficent milk and successfully breast feed. However, not all woman WANT to breast feed, and though we may not agree with that decision for ourselves or our babies it IS her decision to make. The amount of pressure on women from other women to breast feed is HUGE and is equal to the propaganda fed to many mothers by drs, media etc that breast milk alone is not enough. If you are aggrivated by the number of woman who use the “excuse” that they cannot make enough milk we should step back and think about how it must feel to not feel comfortable breast feeding, or not having the support system or education to know how if it does not come easily, and lay off the pressure on our fellow mothers a bit.


    • SquintMom
      Oct 25, 2011 @ 03:37:45

      Absolutely. The pressure needs to stop on BOTH sides. Again, it’s important to remember that the research presented here did not demonstrate (and did not attempt to demonstrate) that all women COULD breastfeed. Merely that for those who CHOSE to do so, breast milk provides complete nutrition for six months. I agree wholeheartedly that women should not be pressured in either direction, and I think it’s both sad and telling that the comments on this post include testimony from women who experienced both types of pressure.


  18. Megan
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 03:06:59

    For me, it took until baby #5 to succeed at breastfeeding. It was something I had always assumed I would do, but for many various factors I wasn’t able to. From twins born two hours apart and being young naive and uninformed to being told that the anti-depressant that worked for me considered unsafe with bfing at the time, it’s been a long journey for me. It took a long time for me to be at peace with formula feeding my other babies because of the breast is best nazis out there. Yes, I totally “get it” now. I get the bond, the love, the satisfaction that comes from continuing to grow another person.

    No one told me truly how HARD it is to establish bfing. I knew that it hurt from my previous attempts but I never knew how much you had to want it. I hope to be able to better educate my daughters when they become mothers.


  19. Rebekah
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 03:20:25

    I’m not a lactation professional, but I do know a bit on the subject. I grew up going to the breastfeeding classes my mother taught at the hospital. The theory that breastfeeding doesn’t come to women naturally now because they don’t see it happening a lot strikes a chord with me. I grew up seeing breastfeeding happening and learning about it. When I had my first child, breastfeeding did come naturally to me. It was second nature. However, early on with my first child and then again with my twins, I questioned if I was making enough milk. They were nursing all the time! I knew with my brain they were just bumping up my milk supply, but my heart worried they were starving. I waited it out. They weren’t fussing for more milk; they were just telling my body to make more milk.
    I think a lot of women get to this point and start supplementing. Their reasoning is often, “He acted so hungry and wouldn’t stop nursing even after the milk was gone, so I gave him a bottle and he drank it all. He still must have been hungry.” And then they start not making enough milk because they don’t know that the formula is displacing their breastmilk. I’ve also met women who will schedule feedings so many hours apart and night wean their babies at an early age. Their bodies don’t make as much milk when the demand isn’t there as often. I realize there are exceptions to these situations, but these have been the things I’ve seen happen to women I know who had to stop nursing due to a low milk supply. I also want to put another disclaimer on this and say these aren’t the only causes of a low milk supply. These are just a couple of them that I have seen personally happen to women I know. What can you say? What’s done is done, and I don’t think any of them actually wanted to cause a low milk supply for themselves.


    • SquintMom
      Oct 25, 2011 @ 03:41:06

      I think you make some insightful points, and also address the important issues of 1) how seeing breastfeeding helps it to come “more naturally,” and 2) how even women for whom it “comes naturally” can have doubts. Thanks for your comment!


  20. @Robin Celeste
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 03:23:47

    The more body fat someone has the less Prolcatin they produce, so in turn someone who is obese may not be able to produce enough milk because the simply don’t have enough of the hormone. This does not hold true for all obese women.


  21. @Robin, Celeste
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 03:24:44

    I mean Prolaction! (oops spelling)


  22. Sara
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 04:27:30

    Great post! I’m getting more and more involved in this issue and the more I learn the angrier I get. It’s so frustrating the way that framing can change the issue and make women feel like they can’t breastfeed or can only do so for a limited time. My baby girl is almost one and we are definitely still breastfeeding A LOT! She loves it and so do I 🙂


  23. ErinLeighMD
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 06:21:53

    I have to weigh in here; I understand what the study is saying & not saying & I loved the article! But on the notion of mothers who “couldn’t” BF, I think all that those of us who worked hard & successfully did it want is women to be more honest about their decisions and just admit it wasn’t what worked best for them. I fully support the women who CHOOSE to stop or to supplement and absolutely praise any effort put forth to provide breasilk for any period of time. That being said, I delivered 31 wk, 3 lb, premie twins during my intern year of residency to be a doctor and working 60-90 hrs a week. Despite C/S under general anesthesia, no contact w/ my babies for almost a week, a nearly month long NICU stay, returning to part time work 5 days after my surgery, and being a single mom w/ no family nearby making little enough to qualify for things like WIC which I refused to accept I exclusively breastfed until my boys weaned spontaneously at 20 months only giving limited formula starting at 10 months b/c I CHOSE not to pump enough. I acknowledge how hard it can be, but most women CAN breast feed and CHOOSE not to and that is their right and I support a womans right to choose, just be honest b/c the more women who say they can’t the more other women will believe it can’t be done. BRW, most states have laws to protect your right to pump but you have to be willing to stand up for yourself & accept ridicule in the work place; I took breaks ever 2-3 he’s to pump and refused to miss out unless I didn’t want to pump and my coworkers & bosses were not always ok with it but I decided for me that my children were more important than my reputation at work.


  24. Laura
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 12:26:13

    Did you actually read the article before writing this piece, or did you just read the abstract?

    I did read the article (well, I admit I skimmed the numbers). The researchers recruited 60 mom/baby pairs. At the 15 week point, when they did the first home visit, 10 pairs had been excluded because they were no longer exclusively BF. At the follow-up home visit at 25 weeks, the number dropped to 47. So 47 out of 60 pairs completed the study, but 6 of those final pairs were also offering solid foods to their babies, so they were no longer EBF, leaving 41 pairs that could be included in the study.

    60 dyads (mom/baby pairs) is a respectable number. The article also says that statistical analysis showed 14 dyads would be a large enough population for the purposes of this study, and the researchers went way beyond that in recruiting 60 and retaining 41. The size of the population isn’t really a problem here.

    Additionally, the abstract seems to indicate that this is a pilot study – the abstract calls it a prospective study – and pilot studies always start with smaller populations to test the methodology before spending time and money on a larger study.

    This research was done in Scotland. Less than 1% of women in the United Kingdom breastfeed exclusively for six months. Less than 1%!! The article cites a perceived insufficient milk supply as the reason why many women stop breastfeeding before six months.

    The point of this research was to prove empirically for those doubting-Thomases that yes, a mother CAN exclusively breastfeed her baby for at least six months and the baby WILL be healthy. Doubting-Thomases want to record energy intake and milk intake, not chart infant growth. The researchers were trying to provide data to BOLSTER breastfeeding in the UK and in the world.

    It seems stupidly obvious and pointless research to us who do it, but don’t we all know doctors and parents who think EBF for six months (or a year!) is impossible or unwise?

    Why be snarky about something that is meant to support breastfeeding?


    • SquintMom
      Oct 25, 2011 @ 16:42:07

      Hmmm. You bring up some points that are worth addressing. First off, while I realize that EBF to 6 mos in the UK (and elsewhere in the industrialized 1st world) is rare, the fact that there aren’t many women who EBF to 6 mos doesn’t change the fact that the study was low power (meaning had relatively few participants). Now, in some fields of research 60 participants is “respectable,” as you say, but in medical research, it’s not considered high power. This technically limits the extent to which the data can be generalized to the population, except that the results are so common sense and basic that there’s no reason to worry that they can’t be generalized. This raises a related point, which is that if the results of a low-power study are so obvious as to be generalizable despite the low power, was the study really worth doing?

      On another topic, the word “prospective” doesn’t mean “pilot.” Instead, it means that the participants were followed over time (prospectively) as opposed to being asked about what happened in the period before the research (studied retrospectively).

      I agree wholeheartedly with your statement that the point of this research was to prove to the “doubting Thomases” (DTs) that breastfeeding for 6 months is possible, but I don’t agree that all DTs want to see caloric intake, particularly because regardless of a baby’s caloric intake, if that baby isn’t growing well, the DTs will say that the milk is insufficient. There are a number of scientists, clinicians, and others who miss the point when it comes to measurements and wellness. Some get so caught up in their measurements that they lose sight of end clinical outcomes. That is to say, there’s only a limited extent to which measurements actually matter in medicine; if the outcome is good, “bad” measurements don’t really matter, and if the outcome is bad, “good” measurements don’t really matter. Now, one could make the argument that if there are some DTs out there who understand medical science poorly (and therefore want to see caloric intake and milk intake rather than growth outcome as an indication that a baby is doing well), then we should provide them with those numbers. However, I would argue that it’s far better to work toward educating DT scientists, clinicians, and laypeople with regard to this issue (and other health-related issues), through making the point that when it comes to medicine, healthy is more important than unhealthy, but with darn good numbers.

      To address your final point, the research itself wasn’t stupidly obvious and pointless, but the metrics they used perpetuated a misdirected interest in data at the expense of wellness. To state it simply, they missed the forest for the trees, and in so doing, they didn’t entirely support, but actually slightly undermined breastfeeding, by supporting the notions that:

      1) data and metrics are more important than clinical outcomes, which could lead DT clinicians to want to measure a breastfeeding mom’s milk output RATHER than relying upon her baby’s growth as an indication that all is well, and

      2) there is enough doubt in the minds of clinicians and/or scientists that breastfeeding can provide at least 6 months of exclusive nutrition for a baby that it’s worth studying.


  25. Carren C.
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 15:00:04

    I truly WISH I could have exclusively breastfed my son until he was 6 months old, but my body just didn’t cooperate. While all the mommies in my moms group talk about their oversupply issues, I’m the only one with the opposite problem. I was never able to make more than 2-3 ounces every 2-3 hours at the height of my production, which was rarely satisfying to him…he would nurse for 45 minutes to well over an hour, desperately searching for the milk that just wasn’t there and my supply continued to drop as he got older even though I was exclusively breastfeeding. By the time he was 4 months old, I was down to about 1 1/2 ounces every couple of hours and he was no longer gaining weight (started to actually lose weight…) so I had to start him on formula. By the time he was 6 months old, I was only making about 8 ounces per DAY. I tried soooo many things to try to boost my supply. When I wasn’t nursing, I was pumping all the time. I made dietary changes, tried various herbal supplements and even prescription medication…but nothing has worked. He’s just about 6 1/2 months old and I’m all but dried up. 😦 I didn’t want to raise a formula baby, but I did the absolute best I could…but all the desire and intention in the world doesn’t mean a thing if your body just won’t cooperate. He still tries to nurse, but there’s just nothing there. So now, instead of enjoying the special bond between mother and child that comes from nursing, I am having to learn how to deal with the frustration and sadness that comes from not being able to provide for my child.


    • erinleighmd
      Oct 25, 2011 @ 18:58:52

      Carren, my deepest sympathies for you and your struggles. It truly sounds like you gave this an incredible effort and you should be congratulated and recognized for this repeatedly! I truly believe though my circumstances outlined above were not easy they were far easier for me than the rare instance you describe in which a mother truly cannot provide enough nutrition to support her child. I can only imagine the emotional strain of this for you and want you to know that I believe, or at least hope, most breastfeeding mothers would give you nothing but support in your situation. I hope everyone understand the point I tried to make earlier does not apply to this situation but rather the ones who “can’t pump enough” b/c of work or other children, etc. Or those w/ “nursing problems” who quickly offer the bottle rather than sticking to their guns as most babies overcome these issues and won’t starve. We underwent a nursing strike and though unbelievably frustrating and emotionally draining we stuck to it and after a few days returned to nursing when I wouldn’t bottle feed instead. I only feel that too many woman touting an inability to breastfeed discourages others from doing it thinking it is too hard or not possible. I just ask that woman be honest w/ themselves and others about the limitations for them and not imply that they are incapable of breastfeeding so often. Best of luck with your next child if you are having more and rest assured that there are many other great ways to bond and in fact, if your little one wants to nurse in the absence of milk production I think there is nothing wrong with letting them “Pacify” on you and enjoying the time with them! Strong work, you did your best, and I truly empathize with your situation and wish you the best!


  26. Jurnee
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 16:29:08

    The sarcasm in this article is unnecessary. Of course, women are mammals and by nature, fully equipped to breastfeed. Who doesn’t know that? However, as some have stated, there are some valid reasons why women cannot breastfeed, or cannot breastfeed without hardship and additional pain/difficulty.

    My baby was over 10 lbs. (I’m a petite woman) and was delivered via c-section. I was not making enough milk for him at his birth, and he cried out of hunger – his pediatrician said he needed to be supplemented by formula until my milk came in. Yes, I could have stuck it out, waited for my milk, weaned him off the supplementation and back onto 100% breast milk. But I was physically devastated by the c-section, lost a lot of blood, and required physical therapy for close to a year to regain my strength. I was in pain. Since my baby was already being supplemented with formula, and was happy and receiving his nutrients, I made the decision to keep him on it. That way I was able to get help from family members in his care and feeding, while I went through the difficult recovery process.

    The sarcasm in this article really seems unfair and unkind. Let’s all be kind to one another, and don’t make judgements without knowing the other person’s circumstances.


    • SquintMom
      Oct 25, 2011 @ 16:52:15

      Let me make it very clear that the sarcasm here is not in any way directed at mothers who choose not to breastfeed. As I’ve stated many times in this post and elsewhere on the site, I feel all women should receive SUPPORT rather than PRESSURE, regardless of what they decide.

      The sarcasm here is directed at the RESEARCH (see my rather lengthy response to Laura, earlier in the comments), which missed the boat scientifically. At the end of the day, this was a scientific study proving (in a somewhat bungled manner) that mammals have the ability to nurse their babies. It was a silly study, both in its hypothesis and in its execution. I want to make it absolutely clear that there is no sarcasm in the post directed at women who are unable to, or choose not to, breastfeed. In fact, the post isn’t about women who are unable to, or choose not to, breastfeed. The post, like the research that inspired it, is about women who choose to, and are able to, breastfeed.


  27. Ameena Falchetto (MummyinProvence)
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 18:07:19

    What a ridiculous bit of research. OMG.
    I breastfed exclusively to 6m and am still breastfeeding at 18m with no plans to stop, BiP can decide. I am considered weird and abnormal in France. Whatever.
    Really? What did they do before formula? If a woman REALLY couldn’t breastfeed she found a woman who could. Breastmilk for human babies?


  28. Julia
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 18:54:17

    I had breast augmentation 5 years ago and am currently breastfeeding my 18 month old son. He was on breast milk exclusivlely for 7 months, he took certain solids after that point but his main source of nourishment was breastmilk.


  29. Dee
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 23:59:00

    Thank you so much for this! It’s great to read something that I’ve been thinking about for such a long time. I am a proud breastfeeder, who will find a quiet place to feed my baby but still in the view of others. I think it’s part of my responsibility for the ensuing generations to provide a positive and VISIBLE model of breastfeeding. I’d also like to add to the commentary that many midwives and maternal health nurses we come into contact with are from the generation who believed that formula was better for the baby than breastmilk. This is not to say all midwives or lactation consultants or health nurses of that generation will simply assume a 50’s and 60’s mentality, simply that they were exposed to (some may say indoctrinated) a perspective other than ‘breast is best’. Even an innocent comment can cement itself in the new mother’s head causing her to WORRY and DOUBT herself and her natural bodily function. Let’s keep this kind of positive proactive talk going in as many forums as possible ladies – it’s good to have everything out in the open…so to speak!


    • SquintMom
      Oct 27, 2011 @ 02:50:42

      I think it’s awesome that you breastfeed in public; it helps to provide an example for others and normalize it. Good for you!


  30. Charissa
    Oct 26, 2011 @ 12:26:04

    I breastfed my daughter for 2 1/2 years and exclusively breastfed her for the first 11 months of her life. Just check out her 11-month pics to see how she thrived on breastmilk alone.
    There’s very few reasons NOT to exclusively breast feed for the first 6 months to a year. It is sad so many people have stopped doing this for their children. It is vital for their health not to mention very affordable.


    • SquintMom
      Oct 27, 2011 @ 02:48:42

      I am so glad you had a great experience breastfeeding your baby! I agree wholeheartedly that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is fully supported by science. There isn’t science to support exclusive breastfeeding for beyond six months as a rule, but all children are different, and some clearly thrive on continued exclusive breastfeeding…while others benefit from and enjoy some solid food. Just as science supports exclusive breastfeeding for six months, science shows no negative effects of starting solids at six months, and shows some benefits. I’ll repeat the caveat, however, that all children are different, and I think mama knows her child best.


  31. Trackback: Shocking New Research Shows Women Can Breastfeed Successfully!! | Mamas and Milk
  32. Becky
    Jul 04, 2012 @ 06:15:01

    Ok, I realize that this post is old, but figuring out how long is the ideal time for exclusive breastfeeding is legitimately a function of science. Just because the majority of babies will survive doesn’t mean it is optimal. Surviving is not necessarily thriving, and those cave dwellers had high rates of infant mortality, too. Moreover, when applied to other areas of research this sounds absurd. “Animals naturally sleep, and we are animals and sleep as needed. Therefore, studying sleep and whether any kind of sleep is safer or not is absurd!” This post seems to be falling into the “naturalistic” fallacy, and assumes that “what humans have always done” is better.

    In my understanding, the norm in human societies is for early supplements to breastmilk of one kind or another. This is true in developed and developing countries. This is why the WHO has to push exclusive breastfeeding so hard, because it is NOT the cultural norm in most areas. It really *isn’t* obvious that exclusive breastfeeding is automatically best, it is only obvious that it is *adequate.* It is scientific research that has established the optimal time for exclusive nursing.

    This particular study *is* kind of dumb and a waste of resources, though, and there are in fact many other studies aimed at determining the optimal time of exclusive nursing. And contrary to what is stated here, there are downsides to exclusive breastfeeding for six months, in that it puts some babies at risk for micronutrient deficiencies, according to the WHO. The benefits of exclusively nursing outweigh these drawbacks until 6 months, but the WHO recommends strongly that complementary foods be started no later than six months, or babies will be at increasing risk for micronutrient deficiencies. Just because the baby isn’t enthusiastic about solids doesn’t necessarily mean that his nutrient stores are in good shape, either.


  33. Becky
    Jul 04, 2012 @ 06:26:28

    Also, after reading through the comments, I want to point out that if 5% of women have insufficient supply then that is 1 in 20 women who has an insufficient supply. It is not a low number and everyone would know more than one person with supply problems.

    I’ve actually seen much higher numbers stated for insufficient supply, as well as suggestions that insufficient supply is so common among humans because of the fact that we are social animals, and that wetnursing has basically evolved along with us.

    In my own experience, I’ve known women able to breastfeed some babies and not others. Luckily, formula is a safe and healthy alternative to starvation.


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