Boobs Make You Brainy

Another day, another breastfeeding story. The BBC this morning have been running the story on what appears to be an almost continuous loop about how the University of Brazil has scientifically proven that breastfed babies are brainier and earn more money…therefore breast is best.

I’ve written at length on my feelings regarding breastfeeding and I’m not going to hash that out all over again but here’s what I say to the University of Brazil: WE KNOW!!!!!!!

Jeez…enough already! We all know that breastfeeding is amazing. We all know that, in an ideal world where we never get wrinkles, cellulite doesn’t exist and sugar is good for you, we would all be breastfeeding our babies until they are 23 years old. We’ve know this for ages, University of Brazil, and there are a million other studies that all conclude with the same thing: breast is best (I hate that fucking phrase).

All this study is, is another sledgehammer to batter women with. The large majority of women want to breastfeed. If they don’t, it’s probably not because they can’t be arsed; it’s more likely that they’ve really struggled with it, that it’s meant weeks and weeks of excruciating pain, perhaps it’s led to depression, infection, hospitalisation, an unhappy baby, an unhappy momma, an unhappy household. Perhaps they have to go back to work to pay the bills at three months, or earlier…perhaps they didn’t have enough milk, or any milk at all. There are a multitude of reasons why women don’t breastfeed for six months or at all and the least common of these reasons is because they just didn’t feel like it.

Of course, there are women who know, right from the start, that they don’t want to breastfeed and that’s ok too because while you may or may not agree, it’s their decision.

This study says that breastfeeding leads to brainier babies with higher earning potentials. OK. Great. What I don’t see is how much brainier these kids were…it just says they scored higher. If the difference is a matter of one or two points, then it’s not really news. If it’s a significant difference, then the fact that formula is making kids stupid is obviously quite a serious issue that needs addressing. The fact that it’s not being presented as a serious issue that needs addressing suggests that the differences were, in fact, minimal.

Also, the study assumes that having the brainiest kid who earns the most money is a really important thing. I don’t know about you but, while I’d rather my kid wasn’t a total halfwit, there are other things that are also pretty essential in life. I’d quite like her to have an aptitude for sports, or music, or creativity. I’d probably rather she was super-sociable than the brainiest kid on the block. For all we know, perhaps formula fed babies are more compassionate or selfless. Who says being the brainiest is the be all and end all? From my experience the ‘brainiest’ people are often the least interesting.

And aren’t there other things that impact intelligence? Schooling? Parenting? Socialisation? Experiences? What about a child’s emotional intelligence? If all this study is saying is that breastfed babies are better at fractions than those fed formula then I don’t think we need to be all that worried.

We only have to look around at our family, our friends to realise that this theory doesn’t hold true consistently. Plus, anyone born in the 70s who heard this news piece will be wondering just how smart they could have been if their mums hadn’t jumped on the oh, so fashionable formula wagon during that decade. Perhaps, if mothers in the 70s had breastfed their babies, we could have grown the geniuses required to cure cancer or live on Mars.

Which frankly, in the light of all this boob-fuelled madness, is quite an appealing prospect at the moment.

Quite simply: we know breastfeeding is the very best option. We know this. We don’t need to be beaten over the head with anymore studies ‘proving’ it. Perhaps, if the money spent on these studies went to supporting compassionate and trained professionals to help struggling women with breastfeeding we’d all be a lot better off.

There will be women all over the country today, crying because they’re boobs are in more pain than they ever thought possible, crying because they feel complete failures about not being able to feed their baby, worrying themselves silly because they are not providing their baby with gallons and gallons of breastmilk. These women will have watched this programme, and it won’t have helped them one bit. It won’t have provoked them to ask for help, it won’t have made them feel empowered or strong, it will have made them feel pressured and anxious and guilty and very, very sad.

So stop with the breastfeeding battering. We know. We get it. We are really trying.

Instead…send help.

5 thoughts on “Boobs Make You Brainy

  1. Natalie says:

    I agree that the 4 point average IQ difference is hardly anything to write home about and I think the statistical money earned over their lifetime is very subjective to how the child is raised and what they are taught as well.

    However I urge you to realise that the women who do breastfeed, did exactly what the ones who failed did, they worked really hard everyday through sore nipples, sleepless nights and times they felt like giving up before they achieved what they set out to do. The successful mothers aren’t without their efforts either.

    So please stop bashing a positive bit of information. Apologies if you are one that struggled with breastfeeding, but that does not give you the right to try and ruin a nice thing for everyone else that succeeded. They all have as much of a right to shout this from the rooftops as you have the right to post a bitchy article about it.

    We get some people feel guilty about not being able to breastfeed, and I feel for them I really do, but we need our room to feel proud too.


  2. Fergus Kane says:

    I fully agree with your points on the media’s reporting of such studies, and pressures on mothers. However, I think your criticisms of the study are a little unfair (I’m not sure you’ve read it). The study is freely available to read here:

    Contrary to your article, the authors have reported the precise difference in IQ, in the abstract and in the main body of the paper.

    “”In the confounder-adjusted analysis, participants who were breastfed for 12 months or more had higher IQ scores (diff erence of 3·76 points, 95% CI 2·20–5·33), more years of education (0·91 years, 0·42–1·40), and higher monthly incomes (341·0 Brazilian reals, 93·8–588·3) than did those who were breastfed for less than 1 month.”

    So 3.8 IQ points and a statistically significant difference. Not earth shattering, not perhaps ‘clinically significant’, but not nothing. I’d certainly take them if they were on offer to me!

    The study was also started in 1982, along time before we had much information on the effects of breastfeeding, and around the time that the formula manufacturers were actively undermining breastfeeding and promoting formula as superior – to devastating and indeed lethal effect in countries without clean drinking water (including Brazil). So it’s hardly fair to say the money should have been spent elsewhere. The phrase ‘breast is best’, which you understandably dislike, must also be considered in the context of this historical and present manipulation of public perception by formula companies.

    You were concerned about confounders. The study did look at the influence of parental education, income (proxies of socio-economic class) etc. No study can measure everything, but they measured the most obvious. A study looking at emotional abilities, as you suggest, would be very interesting.

    The IQ test used, the WAIS III certainly does not just measure fractions (there are no fractions), but measures a variety of abilities, which have a demonstrable effect on one’s ability to do well in the ‘real world’.

    In addition, this study comes from South America. Now while I don’t know about Brazil, there is still plenty of misinformation and mispractice when it comes to the promotion of breastmilk here in Ecuador, as there has been in other developing countries in which I have lived/worked/visited. In this context, one can imagine the authors’ desire to counteract some of this.

    The location of the study might also explain some of the focus on earnings. In Brazil, a country with less of a safety net than the UK, extra earnings might mean a lot. I agree with you its a slightly strange metric to focus on. I fear that nowadays researchers are pushed to build an economic analysis into all studies. This can however, help to argue for funding for ‘supporting compassionate and trained professionals’. Nowadays we often have to resort to such methods to get decent services funded.

    Anyhow, thank you for the though provoking article, it made me do some reading and learn some things!


  3. Viji Maha says:

    I am a mother who breastfed and formula-fed my baby, until she was 11 months old, until sadly I had to goto work, so I stopped BF which I very much enjoyed until the last days I had to give up. But Breastfeeding was the hardest thing for me to start off with. My daughter lost considerable weight in the first 11 days, so made a conscious decision to start introducing formula too. For me, this was the best decision, best of both worlds. There are mums who are totally in the “breast are best” and good on them to keep going and some take formula route and that’s good too if that makes the mum and baby happy. I think if mum is constantly unhappy while breastfeeding that will also have an impact on the baby’s happiness.
    So for me, it comes down to choice and happiness with that choice!
    Well done for notsosmugnow for starting a healthy debate!


  4. Emma says:

    Wow, Natalie – ‘the ones who failed’? ‘The successful mother’s’? Labelling mums who breastfeed and those who don’t/can’t with such all encompassing positive and negative language about their status as a mother is more than just naive – it’s irresponsible.


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