Are Some Breast-Feeding Claims Overblown?

"There was a whole pressure from the midwives who kept weighing the baby and making you feel like you weren't producing enough and [were] a huge failure," said Stimson.

"But the worst thing is that babies don't feed regularly. The more milk they drink, the more you produce," she said. When the baby doesn't want to eat, "that's when your end up with these two huge misshapen bombs on your chest that just hurt to the touch."

However, other women think the evidence is strong enough that women aren't pressured enough.

"I think women should be completely informed of risks and benefits ... everything, so that they can make an informed decision," said Linda Goodman, a mother of five who breastfed her children for the health benefits and convenience.

"But I think for a lot of women there's probably not enough pressure on them," said Goodman. "For example, if someone had their baby taken and their baby is in the NICU, they just give up and stop. But given the help, the chances are that they can still breast-feed."

Experts say there hasn't always been such a debate. In the developing world, the case for breast-feeding is clear cut.

"Prior to antibiotics, we know that babies died if they were not breastfed and that is still true in developing countries," said Dr. Ruth Lawrence, professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine in New York, and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' section on breast-feeding.

"A formula-fed child in a developing country has a 50 percent of dying in the first year of life," Lawrence said. "It's because the water is contaminated."

But take breast-feeding into the developed world with clean water, medicine and top health care, and some of the benefits can start to be disputed. One such debate is cost.

breast-feeding Claims about Cost, Intelligence and Death Controversial

Although Goldin chose to breast-feed all four of her children, as a mathematician some of the health benefit claims cited by American Academy of Pediatrics supporting breast-feeding bothered her.

"They had a little blurb about how it's economically beneficial to nurse," Goldin said. "I nursed all my kids and it was a huge personal cost to me to nurse: You have to work less. You have to sleep an hour more. You have to eat an hour more each day."

"If your time is worth nothing, then, yes, nursing is cheaper than formula," she said. "I'm a mathematician; my time is worth a lot. ... It had been, for me, a huge personal cost -- but for me it was also a huge personal benefit."

Frustrated by the economic benefit claims, Goldin said she started digging into the large pool of literature about the health benefits of nursing.

Goldin found that, at least in 2006, the American Academy of Pediatrics was citing studies that she found mathematically questionable; including studies that breast milk could reduce obesity, increase I.Q., and even reduce the overall risk of death.

"I felt that the quality of that research was not very high," said Goldin. "I'm not trying to say that not nursing couldn't have an adverse effect. I'm asking whether it's proven, and if it's taken at face value, what sort of risk are you're talking about?"

Goldin found one study that concluded breast milk in the developed world could reduce a baby's overall risk of death. But after comparing statistics, she found that risk of death was equivalent to the risk parents take by driving with a child in a car.

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