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Not all research is created equal

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Breastfeeding prevents allergies.  No it doesn’t.  Breastfeeding helps prevent obesity.  No it doesn’t.  Breastfeeding babies have higher IQs later.  No they don’t.   It is dizzying to follow the research reports on the benefits of breastfeeding.  Just when there are several studies showing a certain benefit, there comes along one that demonstrates otherwise.  What in the world is going on? 

I think that “Summarizing the health effects of breastfeeding” gives a good clue to what is going on.   http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/apa.13136/epdf.  The act of breastfeeding is so complex in terms of how long, how much, supplements given, pumped breastmilk, timing of feedings, mother’s supply, feeding method, and so on.  The milk is so complex in terms of daily variations, monthly variations, variations over the course of breastfeeding, genetic variations, and so on.  The family in which the breastfed baby grows up is so complex in terms of maternal nurturance, life style, socio-economic influences, parental education and so on.  The variables in any research study are enormous and although researchers attempt to mitigate those variations in the design of the study, it is virtually impossible to take them all into consideration.   So we get research that is contradictory.  If the new research not outright contradictory, at a minimum, it may draw differing conclusions.

So, just when you feel comfortable making a claim about a facet of the superiority of breastmilk, know that some research will come out that says something different.   Studies that are replicated and come out with similar results are the most reliable.  Be critical when you read research.  Are there variables that were not considered in the study design?  Who funded the study?  Do the results support the conclusion?

Don’t be shaken by the fluctuations in published literature.  Breastfeeding is more art than science.

Tagged in: breastfeeding IBCLC

Vergie Hughes has a long history of experience in Maternal Child Health including labor and delivery, post-partum and pediatrics, and for the past 25 years she has been involved in lactation management. Ms. Hughes has a BSN from Pacific Lutheran University and a MS from Georgetown University. She has been a board certified lactation consultant since 1985. At Georgetown University Hospital, she was the director of the Human Milk Bank. She created and developed the National Capitol Lactation Center and the one week Lactation Consultant Training Program. This course has trained more than 4,000 Lactation Consultants since its inception in 1990.


She has been a private practice lactation consultant and business owner, and operated her own lactation center, Washington’s Families First. Lactation Education Resources On-Line is her website, offering training to professionals and information to parents as well. Ms. Hughes has served on the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners and has served on the IBLCE exam writing committee. Her first love is teaching and that is exemplified by the creativity of the courses she has developed. A series of courses “The In-patient Breastfeeding Specialist,” "The Out-patient Breastfeeding Specialist” and “The NICU Breastfeeding Specialist” are all designed to advance the lactation management skills of nurses at the bedside. She regularly teaches skills to labor and delivery nurses and just recently developed the course “Towards Exclusive Breastfeeding.”


Ms. Hughes is the program director and content manager for all of the on-line Lactation Education Resources courses. Ms. Hughes was recently honored with a “lifetime achievement award” as Fellow of the International Lactation Consultant Association (FILCA).

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Guest Monday, 20 November 2017