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Breaking down breastfeeding: Pediatricians weigh in on long-term benefits

Pediatricians weigh in on long-term benefits (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - A recent study on the long-term benefits of breastfeeding says that some of what many thought was good about it, may not be true.

But pediatricians at Cincinnati Children's Hospital say it's important for parents to go beyond the headlines.

There is a lot of “shaming” on Facebook and Twitter on both sides of breastfeeding: Both if a mom chooses to breastfeed and if she does not.

One mom says that getting support can make all the difference if you are having a baby and want to breastfeed.

“It is really hard, it's probably one of the hardest things I’ve done,” said Emily Shears, a mother of 10-month-old Logan.

Little Logan is breastfeeding just fine, but his mom Emily admits that, shortly after his birth, it took a quite a while for her to get good at it.

“I feel like, for me, it was very emotional not to be good and it makes you question your ability to be a good mom because at the end of the day you just want to feed your child,” said Emily.

Feeding your child, with breast milk or not, was the focus of a recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

While few short term benefits of breast milk versus formula are disputed Dr. Sheela Geraghty, a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital says that “breastfeeding is so much better for babies’ immune systems… for babies to get less infections.”

The study looked at what many had perceived as two “long-term” benefits of breastfeeding: Improved thinking or cognition, and less hyperactivity.

Parents of more than 7,000 babies were asked to report on these and by the time kids were five, researchers found no differences in kids breastfed or not for the first six months of life.

As you may imagine, it's a headline that is leading to some confusion about the real benefits of breastfeeding for new moms.

So you hear that headline and then you wonder, should you bother with breastfeeding?

“Never would we say based on one study, that we should not breastfeed,” said Dr. Geraghty.

Breastfeeding specialist Dr. Geraghty also says that it's important to note that the study was done in Ireland, not America.

“Very interestingly, they did not ask anything about pumping and they admit that in their limitations,” said Dr. Geraghty.

When Dr. Geraghty was asked if it was pretty clear to her if the study may not be similar to the population in the United States, she said:

“It doesn't generalize the population to compare it to what happens in the United States,” said Dr. Geraghty.

What she does say is that it’s important for moms to know as a take away from the information.

“It doesn't take anybody off the hook and it doesn’t or shouldn’t make anyone feel guilty if they breastfeed for if they don’t,” said Dr. Geraghty.

Dr. Geraghty says that the social media shaming from moms who breastfeed to moms who don't is not helpful to this debate.

“I think sometimes it makes moms feel as good about themselves as they should, breastfeeding is a very personal experience,” said Dr. Geraghty.

“When I was struggling, I could completely understand why moms just decide it’s not worth it, or they don’t want to do it anymore,” said Emily. “So much of it, for me personally, was just confidence, knowing that I could do it, and having a tribe of people around me just encouraging me.”

The study does lend to other theories that say so many other things influence a child's long-term success besides breastfeeding.

Dr. Geraghty has some great points about why this one study may not be the best reason to question the long-term benefits.

Her thoughts and the complete study can be found here if you'd like to ask your pediatrician about it.

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