By now you have probably heard about the ”breastfeeding sibling study”… so what does all of this mean? Could it really be that breastfeeding is no different for your child than bottle feeding formula? Researchers Cohen and Ramey argue no, it isn’t when you take into consideration the family, accomplished through comparing siblings who were breastfed with their siblings who were bottlefed formula. The study has gotten a lot of attention because they looked at 1,700 children between ages 4-14, evaluating how they did on a 11 outcomes covering both health and educational outcomes. When Cohen and Ramey looked at all children, breastfeeding was clearly shown to be best, over bottle feeding formula. However, when they looked within families and compared the siblings who were breastfed with their siblings who were formula fed, the benefits of breastfeeding disappeared.
In order to REALLY understand this study though, we must look deeper into how the research was conducted and if important elements were omitted. There is a vast body of research that is well established which has shown numerous ways that breastfeeding is superior to bottlefeeding formula, for both baby and mother. Experts Alison Stuebe, MD, MSc and Eleanor Bimla Schwarz, MD, MS offer some helpful insights into the breastfeeding sibling study: namely, many of the protective health effects which are afforded by breastfeeding show up in the early years of life were not considered as children were only as young as age 4 in the study. Additionally, factors within the family which may have prohibited the mother from breastfeeding again, or afforded her the opportunity to breastfeed when she wasn’t able to with her first child, were not considered.
This study does trigger some interesting things to consider in the world of breastfeeding research, particularly how the family should be considered when researching the protective effects of breast milk and breastfeeding.