Massive(ly Flawed) Study Suggests You Can Breastfeed Your Kid Into A Better Social Class

By  | 

breast feeding gingerFor the last decade or so we’ve been bombarded with the message that “breast is best.” Breast milk provides essential nutrients! Breastfeeding helps with bonding! Boobs are awesome! Breast milk can leap tall buildings in a single bound! We’ve heard the facts, ad nauseum. Now a new slew of “facts,” suggests that you can actually breastfeed your kid into a better social class.

A new study, released in the BMJ Journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, claims to link nursing to an increase in upward mobility among social classes. Unfortunately, when it comes to factoring in all the variables that go into such a conclusion, I think they missed the mark.

The study, which was performed by the Research Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University College London, was a sizable one. It looked at 17,419 kids born in 1958 and another 16,771 kids born in 1970. That’s like, ALL THE KIDS. They measured each child’s social class around the ages of 10 and 11 using a four point scale. They also recorded information on each child’s dad’s social class and the kids were given medical tests to measure cognitive development and stress levels. The subjects were looked at again in their mid-30s.

According to the study, the babies who were breastfed had a 24 percent higher chance of achieving a higher social class. Is anyone else picturing a kid with a monocle and top hat?  Babies partaking in some awesome, awesome boob milk were also 20 percent less likely to become a bum on the street. They go on to say that babies who were nursed had lower levels of stress, which increased the benefits of nursing even more.

What wasn’t factored in was the mother’s social and economic situation. At. All. She’s just the person who is given the bulk of the childcare responsibilities.

They also don’t look into the maternity leave situation these mothers dealt with, which has been linked to successful breastfeeding. While it’s a no-brainer to assume that the majority of the mothers in the 1958 portion of the study were SAHMs, it’s not as clear in the 1970s. Many women were just starting to hit the workforce, but none of this is even mentioned in the study. Did any of the mothers in the study work? What was their education? Did they go to clown school?

However, there was one factoid that was rather illuminating. In 1958, more than two-thirds of the new mothers breastfed their kids (68 percent), whereas only 36 percent did so in 1970. Could this be because more women were working and therefore had less time to breastfeed? Would this have been different if these women had been offered better maternity leave? (Probably).

The study itself even admits that their findings are far from comprehensive. The information they gathered only suggests that breastfeeding effects social ranking. They have no way of knowing if it’s the milk itself that leads to improvement. It could also be the skin-to-skin contact and bonding, or something else entirely.

This following quote from one the main researchers, Amanda Sacker, seems to suggest that there was some bias:

“Breast-feeding has lifelong benefits. Breast-feeding not only gives children a good start in life, but also boosts chances of a healthy and successful adulthood. For most women, breast-feeding offers them a simple way to improve their child’s life chances.”

It almost seems like these researchers already had an idea in their head and were just looking for evidence, which just screams of confirmation bias. Thoughts like these have no place alongside so-called scientific studies.

I nursed all three of my kids and I support the choice fully. But If you’re gonna take 50+ years to perform a study, I think you should dig a little deeper than this. Think of the children!

(Photos:  Ipatov / Shutterstock)