Archive for July, 2006

CIO, sleep training, and evidence or the lack thereof

(This post initially appeared on the Good Enough Mum site in 2006 – I’m reposting it here some years later, under the original date.  Comments on the original can be seen over there.)

The sleep training debate has, to no-one’s great surprise, popped up again in Parentland.  In the red corner, Rosa Brooks: hell, yeah, stick in those earplugs, sling ’em in the cot and let ’em howl!  What harm could it possibly do?  In the green corner, Hathor, the Cow Goddess Of Attachment Parenting: heresy!  Don’t you realise this will traumatise your child and damage his or her trust?  What caring mother could ever do such a thing?

I’ve commented previously on my opinions on both sleep training in particular and OneTrueWayism in parenting in general, but, as it happens, what drew me into the debate this time was another favourite bugbear of mine – the spot-the-difference game between what the evidence on a contentious topic says and what people with strong opinions on the topic claim it says.  What Hathor claimed, you see, is that her anti-CIO stance had been proved right by scientific research.  Years of study and reams of inquiry, she assured us, all consistently maintain that it is harmful to force your child to cry it out.  Indeed, Ferber himself had been proved wrong on the subject and had recanted his claims as a result.

Now, I can totally understand being anti-CIO – even its strongest proponents admit that it can be a pretty unpleasant experience for everyone concerned.  I’m a lot more sceptical about the belief that it’s likely to cause long-term emotional damage – personally, I think babies are a lot more resilient than some of us give them credit for, and I don’t think a child who’s getting plenty of affection in his life overall is going to suffer permanent trauma as a result of a few bedtimes and naptimes crying alone – but it’s a big old world and there’s room for a lot of different opinions out there.  But claiming that there’s scientific evidence for the supposed harmfulness of CIO – well, that’s where things leave the realm of opinion and get into the realm of ascertainable fact.  Or, as it may be, fiction.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at what different parenting forums and websites have to say about CIO, including a lot of the CIO-is-the-work-of-the-devil sites, and I’ve often come across this claim before.  Invariably, the ‘evidence’ presented (when the person making the claim actually does present any evidence instead of just assuming that the existence of evidence is so obvious as to need no further comment) falls into one or more of three categories:

1. Opinion.

2. Anecdote (often of cases where a number of other things were changed in a child’s life at the same time.  “This two-month-old baby was left to cry herself to sleep and her parents stopped spending as much time with her during the day and she was fed less often and, guess what, she didn’t thrive.  Obviously the sleep training!”)

3. Actual research that isn’t actually into CIO. There is a huge amount of research out there to show that regular positive attention and affection is crucially important for children’s emotional development, and one of the few issues in parenting that just about anyone with any glimmer of a clue can actually agree on is that prolonged, regular neglect during childhood is liable to cause children problems; sometimes huge problems.  However, sleep training isn’t prolonged, regular neglect.  It involves leaving children for short periods at specific times, while giving them just as much loving care as normal at other times (possibly more, since responding lovingly and affectionately to another person tends to be rather easier if you’re not going insane with sleep deprivation).  Pointing to studies on the desperate harm suffered by Romanian orphans left abandoned in their cribs all day and every day as evidence of what a Bad Thing sleep training is is about as valid as pointing to studies on starving, malnourished children in the Third World and using them as support for a claim that you’re doing your child terrible damage by expecting her to wait an extra twenty minutes for her dinner now and again.

Since no-one from the anti-CIO-for-sleep-training brigade ever seemed to cite any actual studies on the use of CIO for sleep training, I searched Medline to whether any such studies had ever actually been done.  (The technical term is “extinction”, if you want to do the same thing.)  There are no long-term studies that I could find, but I did find two studies that looked at the psychological status of children shortly after sleep training.  Both of these seem to have passed unnoticed by the very people who are supposedly most fascinated by the psychological status of children following sleep training.  Call me cynical, but am I wrong in thinking that this might possibly have something to do with the fact that both studies actually showed children to be, if anything, somewhat more secure following CIO?

So, I replied to Hathor’s claim with a quick summary of the above.  Since the list of references she gave in reply was fairly typical of the kind of stuff that gets presented as evidence in these debates, I’ll go through them.

One reference to a speech by James McKenna in which he cited primate studies into short-term mother-infant separation.  Now, I can’t comment directly on how these studies might or might not relate to CIO, because direct references weren’t given in Hathor’s quote or anywhere else on the ‘Net that I could find.  However, a Medline search on “mother-infant separation” shows that, while lengthy separations do indeed appear to be harmful to infants, infants separated from their mothers for brief periods of time only were actually less fazed by separation when older than primates who hadn’t undergone such separations.

One newspaper article about Margot Sunderland’s new book, The Science Of Parenting.  I haven’t read the whole book, as yet, but I’ve read the section on sleep training.  No references to studies on CIO.

Two articles about the infamous Commons and Miller paper.  I call it infamous because it gets mentioned in tones of reverence all the time in CIO debates.  It is, according to popular legend about it, a study by two Harvard psychiatrists that showed CIO to be harmful.  The only part of that that’s correct is that the authors do indeed work at Harvard.

The Commons and Miller paper wasn’t a study and wasn’t about CIO.  (And the authors are psychologists, not psychiatrists.)  It was a discussion of the many ways in which child-rearing practices differ in two different societies (the USA and the Gusii tribe of Kenya) and what kind of long-term effects this might have on children reared in the two societies.  It’s a fascinating paper, but it isn’t a study.

One reference to a study stating that all of 186 hunter-gatherer societies looked at in one study practiced co-sleeping.  Which tells us, um, precisely zero about the effects of CIO.

One webpage on the general evils of leaving babies to cry, devoid of any actual references.

And one article about a study showing that infant rats who received plenty of affection from their mothers were more secure than infant rats who received little maternal attention.  Which, as I discussed above, adds to the already sizeable body of evidence that giving your child little attention overall is A Bad Thing, but tells us nothing about the effects of a specific short-term intervention such as CIO.

My dissent on the issue of whether this constituted adequate evidence of the evils of CIO caused, as you can imagine, some debate.  Since there are now quite a number of questions for me in the second comment thread still awaiting a reply, I decided to move the discussion over here and answer them in this post.

What exactly are you looking for for something to be a study?

Well, not wanting to sound tautologous or anything, but a study involves studying something.  When someone says that CIO is harmful but doesn‘t actually provide any evidence to back this up, that’s an opinion.  When someone speculates on whether CIO may be harmful, that’s a theory.  When someone makes an attempt to assess the state of children following CIO, that’s a study.  (Whether or not it’s a good study is, of course, a whole separate and important question.)

Or to have compelling information for you to see that CIO is not a good thing for babies?

I’m not trying to claim it’s a “good thing” (although I believe that, for some babies, it’s a better thing than the alternative).  I’m objecting to the claim that research has proved it to be a harmful thing.  But, to answer your question: if well-conducted studies into the psychological state of children following sleep training showed them to be psychologically worse off after CIO, then that would be compelling evidence.

If I may be so bold as to ask, what exactly are you doing on a site that is pro co-sleeping trying to defend CIO?

Objecting to misinformation.  I don’t object to people being anti-CIO; I do object to people claiming the evidence states something that it doesn’t.

Or at least trying to say that there needs to be studies to prove that co-sleeping is benificial (sic)?

I haven’t said that.

I guess it all comes down to doing what works best for your family, taking into consideration that babies/children are people too, and that they have needs that they can not meet themselves do to their age.

Doing what works best for your family is exactly my philosophy, as well.  However, my experience is that when that statement is followed by that sort of qualifier in this sort of debate, what it actually means is that you don’t believe CIO is ever going to be what works best for anyone’s family.  And, having read a lot of different stories from different people with different experiences, I can’t agree with that.

There are may ways to help a child learn to sleep that do not involve them having to cry for extended periods of time.

And I’d like to see them much more widely known (by which I do not just mean the blanket “Co-sleeping will solve all your problems!  What more could you possibly need to know?” recommendation that seems to be all that some attachment parenting advocates have to offer).  I’d also, however, like to see it more widely recognised that – like everything else in parenting – they aren’t universal solutions that work for all children and all families.

But I think we need to remember that there are a lot of parents out there who might well have tried alternative solutions to sleep problems with their children if they’d known about them, but who didn’t know about them and thus tried some form of CIO.  Now, leaving these families thinking “Damn, if only I’d known about that at the time!  Could have saved us an unpleasant few evenings” is one thing; leaving them thinking “Oh, no!  There’s scientific evidence that the way I handled things was actually damaging for my child!“ is another.  If we’re going to do that to parents, we ought to be damn sure we have our facts straight first.  If there isn’t any actual evidence that CIO is harmful then we shouldn‘t be claiming that there is, no matter how vehement our personal opinions on the subject.

Touche on the Harvard study, I haven’t seen the actual paper the article was based on.

Well, if you want to, you can read it here.  Right where I said it would be, in fact.

But a comparative multi-disciplinary investigation of different societies is not necessarily less valid than lab-controlled experiments. It’s what anthropologists do.

It’s a valid research method for some things, although I don’t think it would be a good way of studying CIO – there are so many differences between different societies that it wouldn’t be possible to single out one specific brief episode during childhood and pinpoint the effects of that.  However, the objection I was making is not that their paper is an anthropological study, but that it isn’t a study at all.  It’s a discussion of previous research into the topic, and it doesn’t contain any actual information on how the different methods of child-rearing affect children.  It simply theorises on how the differences might affect children, and suggests this as a topic for further research.

These [the children in the first CIO study] are 6-24 month old children they studied. How would you guess they rated the security and anxiety of these children?

They used a modified version of a scale called the Flint Infant Security Scale, filled in by the parents.  The second study I cited used the same scale, and also visual analogue scales to measure the parents’ impressions of how depressed and how anxious/insecure their children seemed.

I personally can’t see how being left alone to sleep can make anyone more secure.

I’ve found that dealing successfully with a situation I originally thought to be beyond me usually leaves me feeling more secure.  Knowing that I can deal with it leaves me with more confidence in my own abilities.

It’s also worth remembering that children who have difficulty getting to sleep and wake frequently in the night are often sleep-deprived themselves.  If adults find it easier to cope with life’s stresses when well-rested, why shouldn’t the same be true of children?

To me this abstract is pretty unconvincing.

That’s fine.  I’m not out to bang a CIO-is-wonderful drum here – that isn’t the way I feel at all.  What I’m trying to point out is that the existing evidence doesn’t show it to be harmful.

I don’t believe in CIO.  Sarah, you obviously do to some extent

What I believe in is finding solutions that work for individual families, individual children.  I believe that sometimes, that solution is going to be CIO.  And I believe that though another method could potentially have worked just as well or better in most (not all) cases where CIO is used, that doesn’t mean that using CIO in those cases was actually harmful.

Anyway, people also used to widely believe in ’spare the rod spoil the child’ and were full of evidence of how spanking led to better children.

And stories like that don’t tell you that we should be extremely careful about not claiming that the evidence supports a particular way of doing things purely because that’s what it suits us to believe?

I just don’t see how a three or six month old baby for example can know the difference between just having been left in his safe nursery and having been abandoned completely.

Well, when his mother turns up again, I think he’s going to figure out that it was the former.

And how do you really know that a three month old really isn’t hungry, or that something isn’t really bothering him?

In fact, I don’t know any experts who advocate using sleep training for a baby as young as three months.  But, assuming that you didn’t feel that to be the crucial point of your question: By knowing your child and by using common sense.  For example, if you’ve just nursed your child and he isn’t taking any more milk then it’s a fair bet that hunger isn’t the problem.

And besides that, why are only physical needs valid when speaking about babies? Certainly judging by the numbers of relationship gurus out there, all the books, all the Dr. Phils and beyond, we in North America believe that we have emotional needs that deserve to be met.

Certainly.  But that doesn’t mean that someone has to be available to meet them every minute throughout the day and night.  I don’t expect my partner to drop absolutely everything he’s doing to talk to me whenever the fancy takes me, even if it’s 4 a.m. and he’s in a sound sleep.  I know that he has other things to do that are important; and I know that that doesn’t detract from his love for me or his ability to be supportive and available to me overall.

Why is it less valid for a baby to be lonely than it is for an adult to be lonely?

It isn’t.  But, similarly, why should it be so much more valid?  If a friend staying with you was regularly expecting you to come and keep her company regardless of what hour of the day and night it was or what else you might need to do, how long would it be before you started saying no some of the time?

I mean no offense by this, but I don’t really need you to answer these questions. I know what the answers are for me.

Which is good.  The point at which I start having a problem with these sorts of discussions is when people start deciding that they know what the answers are for everybody else.

I think ultimately all there is to this topic is to follow your heart, as Julinda and Serendipity said above.

And if your heart leads you to the conclusion that CIO is the right answer for your baby?

I hope these articles make people think about this issue a little bit more, to reconsider, to tune into their heart and see what is right for *them*.

I’d love it if there were more articles that did that, but I don’t think either Rosa Brooks’ or Hathor’s had that aim.  What Hathor, like Brooks, really wants other people to do is to tune into her heart and do things the way she thinks is right.  That’s the problem I have with this issue, as with so much else in parenting; so many people think they’ve got the one right way that’s going to work for all children, just as though children weren’t individuals as much as the rest of us.

But that’s not why I wrote the reply I did to Hathor’s post.  I replied to it because I believe that she was not correct in claiming that the existing scientific evidence proves CIO to be harmful.  And I hope I’d have had the guts to say so even if I was passionately anti-CIO on a personal level.  Judging the evidence on the basis of what we want it to show is a temptation that’s impossible to avoid altogether – but we should be willing to be as honest as we can be about what it actually shows.

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July 7, 2006 at 10:20 pm Leave a comment

Stats.org breastfeeding article, Part 2 – In which we get bogged down in the murky details of statistics

(This post first appeared on the Good Enough Mum blog, here.)

The story so far: Goldin, Smyth, and Foulkes, of STATS.org, claim to have the truth about What Science Really Says About Breastfeeding – unlike the AAP and the NYT, who are, allegedly, using sloppy science and misleading us all on the issue.  They start out their article by listing what would appear to be every possible or potential breastfeeding-related problem they could manage to come up with.  Having thus set the scene for their impartial and unbiased approach to the subject, they proceed to discuss the statistical evidence.

Hang onto your hats – we may have to start getting technical at this point.  If I’m going too fast, just wave your arms at me and yell loudly, or something.

The article does raise some crucial points about the difficulties with research into breastfeeding.  As they point out, it is not possible (for obvious ethical reasons) to conduct the gold standard of research – a trial in which mothers are assigned by the toss of a coin or equivalent procedure into breastfeeding or non-breastfeeding groups.  (One point that I must make here, to soothe my pedantic little soul – this type of trial would be a randomised controlled trial, not, as they called it, a ‘case-controlled study’.  A case-control study is something completely different.  While it doesn’t ultimately make a difference to the point they were making, I did find it bizarre that two statistics professors could make such an elementary mistake.)

Non-randomised studies have a flaw in them from the start – they’re subject to what we call  confounding factors.  Mothers and babies who breastfed are likely to differ in other crucial ways from mothers and babies who didn’t.  Women who choose to breastfeed may well be making other choices about their parenting that differ from those of women who choose to formula-feed; women who are unable to breastfeed or to continue breastfeeding may have been rendered unable by some factor that, in itself, is relevant to the baby’s health.  This makes it difficult to know to what extent the differences found between breastfed and non-breastfed babies are due to the breastfeeding itself, and to what extent they’re due to factors that tend, in practice, to be associated more with breastfeeding than with formula feeding or vice versa.

There are statistical ways to take confounding factors into account in a study analysis and hence cancel out their effect on the end results, and any good-quality research will do this as far as possible.  The problem, however, is that we can only do that for confounders that we know of and can collect data on.  This is a potential source of bias in any non-randomised study.  It’s an inevitable flaw in breastfeeding research, and STATS.org are quite right to point it out.

However, using this problem as a reason to be appropriately cautious about interpretation of results is one thing; using it selectively as an excuse to reject only the research whose results you don’t like is another.  I’ve previously mentioned one of our most deep-rooted sources of bias; our tendency to reserve our criticisms of study design only for studies whose conclusions we don’t like.  This article was, as it happened, the perfect example.  Smoking can no more be randomised than breastfeeding can, and hence all our existing research into the harms of smoking in humans is based on non-randomised studies. But STATS.org’s criticism of the research into breastfeeding (which they ultimately dismiss as “voodoo science”) stands in stark contrast to their unquestioning acceptance of the research showing that smoking during pregnancy is harmful.

Please don’t misunderstand this: I am not saying that smoking during pregnancy is harmless.  Quite the reverse.  I am saying that in spite of the flaws inherent in non-randomised studies, we have no problem saying that the research on smoking and pregnancy is sufficient for us to accept a harmful effect.  We don’t dismiss that evidence out of hand simply because the studies aren’t perfect; and, similarly, we are not justified in simply dismissing the huge number of studies that show beneficial effects from breastfeeding.

A far more realistic and constructive approach would be to consider what criteria a good-quality study should fit, pick out the studies that met those criteria, and consider the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence overall.  An article aimed at doing that could have been both useful and fascinating.  (Writing it is on my list of things to do in that mysterious alternative universe I keep hoping to stumble into where I actually get large amounts of spare time.)  Goldin, Smyth and Foulkes, however, simply seem to have picked out a few studies they could pick at and acted as though these were representative of the body of research generally.

For example, the article’s conclusion that the benefits of breastfeeding are limited to ‘certain kinds of low-risk infections’ seem to be based largely on analysis of a single study. Not only was the study in question fairly small, but, from the STATS.org description of it, it seems the two groups being compared could be roughly described, not as “ever breastfed” and “never breastfed”, but as “sometimes breastfed, quite a lot of formula” and “sometimes formula-fed, quite a lot of breastfeeding”.  This is a design flaw that is automatically going to cause the study to underestimate any breastfeeding benefits, because the effect is going to be so diluted by the overlap between the groups.  In view of these problems, it’s telling that this study came up with any benefits for breastfeeding – we really can’t deduce much from the fact that the benefits it found were limited.  STATS.org, however, seem to be taking it as the final word on the matter.

Now, the AAP position paper on breastfeeding from which STATS.org takes this reference cites – by my count – sixty-eight references for studies showing possible short-term or long-term benefits for breastfed babies (plus fourteen references to potential benefts for the mother).  STATS.org single out a grand total of five of these for specific discussion (if we count the passing mention of the studies on breastfeeding and diabetes as ‘discussion’).  So, out of all those dozens of studies, why did STATS.org place so much weight on one that seems so likely to underestimate benefits of breastfeeding?

The only reason we’re given why this particular study is singled out for mention is that it is, supposedly, an example of one of many studies that, according to STATS.org, “simply didn’t find what AAP claimed they did”.  In other words, STATS.org claim that AAP are making incorrect claims about study findings.  A serious accusation indeed.

Except that it doesn’t seem to be true.  Or, at any rate, the authors totally fail to produce any evidence to support it.  They claim that the lack of difference of rates of respiratory infection in the study “contradicts the AAP’s claim that there were decreased upper and lower-respiratory illnesses for nursed babies”.  But the AAP didn’t claim that this particular study showed a difference in rates of respiratory infection.  They say that it showed a difference in rates of diarrhoea – which it does indeed.  (They cited nine studies as reference for their claim that rates of respiratory tract infection are decreased.  Goldin, Smyth and Foulkes discuss none of these.)

Are the authors deliberately lying, or are they just very sloppy about checking details?  Either way, it doesn’t say much for their reliability.  We are given no details on the other supposed studies that “simply didn’t say what the AAP claimed they did”, so I couldn’t assess whether there was any truth to this claim at all. However, this mistake on the part of STATS.org doesn’t bode well.

What did STATS.org tell us about the other studies it discussed?  The most important was the Chen and Rogan study on which the AAP base their claim of reduced mortality in breastfed babies.  STATS.org dismiss this on the grounds that the study showed that breastfed infants were less likely to die of injuries.  True, but certainly not the whole truth.

There’s another statistical concept that needs explaining briefly here – the idea of statistical significance.  Simply put, statistical significance is the likelihood that any findings in a study are down to something more than just coincidence.  It’s normal to get small differences between the outcomes in two groups purely by chance, just as it’s normal to get 501 heads rather than 500 if you flip a coin a thousand times.  But if a thousand coin flips come up with 600 heads, there’s probably something about the coin that’s giving you that result; and, similarly, the larger the differences in outcomes between two groups that differ only in the factor you’re studying, the larger the likelihood that the differences in outcomes are genuinely due to differences in that factor rather than to sheer coincidence.  By convention, once the chances of getting a particular result by sheer chance are less than one in twenty then that result is held to be ‘statistically significant’.

The difference in size between two outcomes necessary for the result to be statistically significant depends, among other things, on the frequency of the outcomes.  With small groups, a tiny difference between the numbers is less statistically significant than it would be with big groups.  (If you flip a coin 1000 times and get 600 heads, there’s probably something odd about the coin – if you flip a coin 10 times and get 6 heads, there’s nothing particularly significant about that, even though the proportion of heads is the same in each case.)  Hence, when you’re studying an outcome that’s as rare as infant death in the USA fortunately is, a difference between the figures in two groups has to be quite a sizeable percentage of the overall numbers in order to show up as statistically significant.  The more you split the groups down into sub-groups, the less likely it is that even a genuine difference will achieve statistical significance, because there just won’t be the numbers for it to do so.

This, as far as I can tell, is what seems to have happened in the Chen and Rogan study.  The author looked at death rates across the board (the only causes excluded from their analysis were cancers and congenital birth defects).  Death rates were down overall and in each subgroup studied.  However, when the deaths were divided into separate groups, although each group showed a reduction in death rates, the groups of babies dying from infections, SIDS, or other causes were too small for a small difference to show up as statistically significant.  It’s only when you combine all the deaths from all causes that you get a group large enough for the statistical significance to show up.

Now, this study is certainly not without flaw (something the authors themselves freely acknowledge).  And it’s also worth noticing that even if the 21% reduction in death rates is the true figure and not due to some confounding factor for which the authors couldn’t adjust, that equates to an extremely small risk for any individual formula-fed infant – that level of risk would mean that for every fifty thousand children not breastfed, nine would die as a result.  But looking at the results realistically is one thing; dismissing them on spurious grounds because they don’t happen to suit you is another thing entirely, especially when other studies have come up with similar evidence.  (STATS.org tell us that the reduced rates of SIDS in this study weren’t statistically significant; what they don’t mention are the other studies cited by the AAP that show a possible link.)

The only other three studies about which STATS.org had anything to say were the three pointing towards a possible association between breastfeeding and decreased risk of diabetes.  Two of these were apparently dismissed on the grounds of being based on Chilean and Pima Indian children respectively (why this should be grounds for ignoring them was not explained).  The third study, the authors claim, “only found results for children exposed to food. Infant formula wasn’t even considered!”  Which is most peculiar, because when I checked out the abstract it certainly mentioned finding an association between diabetes and early cow’s milk exposure (in babies who were already at high risk of diabetes), and cow’s milk was a major ingredient of formula last time I checked.

Of course, although STATS.org are incorrect in saying that no benefit has hitherto been shown of breastfeeding as far as diabetes prevention goes, it’s true that the evidence so far is still in the early and tentative stages.  But the AAP’s paper doesn’t try to claim otherwise – diabetes was one of the conditions listed in the section that specified “Some studies suggest decreased rates… Additional research in this area is warranted.”  So, again – why did the authors single out this particular topic for further discussion, when several important risks for which the AAP do claim strong evidence of benefit from breastfeeding (meningitis, sepsis, necrotising enterocolitis) were ignored?

Because, it seems, this was their chance to get in a swipe at the NYT.  “The Times takes the concept that an indictment is as good as a conviction to new heights” trumpet the authors, under the subheading “Baseless reporting”.  What they conveniently omitted to mention was that the Times did actually specify that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove a link.  I don’t know whether STATS.org are bashing the NYT solely in order to discredit what they have to say about breastfeeding, or whether it’s actually the other way round and they have some grudge against the NYT which is colouring their interpretation of subjects on which the NYT report.  What I do know is that by this stage it was clear that, whatever the authors pretended, they weren’t even attempting to look at the NYT article impartially.

They use the same technique of telling only part of the truth in order to pooh-pooh the AAP’s conclusions about the economic benefits of breastfeeding.  The AAP, they say, “is not officially in the business of making economic calculations” (side note: is that true?  As an employee of the National Health Service, I’m intrigued by the idea of a country in which a major medical body can get away without being in the business of making economic calculations), and their arguments about the economic benefits “are simply bad (social) science, and are fed by conviction or opportunism rather than hard evidence”.  But what they fail to mention is that the AAP aren’t simply making it up as they go along; they cite four studies and two economic analyses (which appear, from the government think-tanks mentioned in the article, to have been done by people who are officially in the business of making economic calculations) as evidence for their claims.  (One of the studies was a comparison of breastfeeding and formula-feeding among employed mothers, making a nonsense of STATS.org’s claim that economic benefits would be cancelled out by the incompatibility of breastfeeding and full-time employment.)

So, the authors conclude, what should we take away from this?  Their “inescapable conclusion” is, apparently, that it is “nothing short of irresponsible” for a public health campaign to have compared not breastfeeding to smoking during pregnancy.  (This was, apparently, their biggest concern with the whole NYT article; I was somewhat amused that it was that, rather than the comparison with riding a mechanical bull during pregnancy, that apparently struck them as shockingly inappropriate.)

They also make one rather good point in their conclusion; namely, that we take risks every day, with our children as well as ourselves (crossed a road with your child recently?), and that it’s quite normal to accept a certain amount of risk if you feel the benefits are worthwhile.  But to make these sorts of choices, we need accurate information about what the risks and benefits actually are.  On the subject of choosing not to breastfeed, STATS.org mislead us sadly, and to an extent that can only be deliberate, about both.

July 1, 2006 at 10:12 pm Leave a comment


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