Breastfeeding Medicine

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Trust and test weights

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“Nobody seems to trust test weights in our unit.  What are we doing wrong?”

To “test weigh” a baby means to measure how much milk she has transferred by simply weighing her — clothing, diaper and all — before and after breastfeeding.  Test weights are often used in term infants using precise scales such as the Medela BabyWeigh.  A few studies have supported the utility of test weights in preterm infants: these include a Swedish study favorably comparing babies cared for in NICUs using test weights vs NICUs that did not (earlier attainment of exclusive breastfeeding and earlier discharge) as well as a small study from the illustrious LCs at my own institution describing the development of a technique for accurately performing test weights.

It still seems, though, that NICU providers and even parents have a tendency to distrust test weights in premies learning to breastfeed.  Some of this distrust, especially for the providers, is probably a residuum of earlier studies using less precise scales and/or less consistent, accurate weighing techniques.  (It is true that we NICU folks tend to love our numbers, and we prefer that they have as many significant digits as possible.) I suspect another large part of the distrust has to do with the fact that premies who are learning to feed don’t consistently transfer the same volume of milk even when their feeding quality seems to be subjectively “good.”  As with learning to walk or talk, learning to feed is an incremental and not a linear process… but when numbers-focused, pattern-seeking people see “inconsistency” in the amount transferred, we think “that can’t be right.” Finally — just perhaps — part of the distrust might be with breastfeeding itself.  If we can’t measure it or control it, we can’t trust it. And if parents hear us expressing distrust of breastfeeding, they are probably more likely to distrust it as well. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by neobfmd

January 6, 2017 at 4:46 pm

Update: Research studies quantify risks of risk-based language

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Last month, I blogged on my growing discomfort with ‘risk-based language’ to support breastfeeding. I explained that rationale for risk-based language is that

… when we talk about risks of formula, we will motivate mothers to “clamor for help,” and thereby increase breastfeeding rates and improve the health of mothers and babies.

It’s a compelling logical argument. And yet, I’ve been unable to find empirical evidence that it is true. To generate that evidence, we’d need to compare outcomes among mothers and babies counseled that formula increase risk with outcomes among those told that breastfeeding improves health and wellbeing. To my knowledge – and please let me know if there is a peer-reviewed study out there! – such a study has not been done.

In face, such a study has been done, by Lora Ebert Wallace and Erin N. Taylor, in the departments of Sociology and Anthropology and of Political Science at Western Illinois University. When they contacted me, they reminded me that I’ve blogged previously about their work on “shame” and “guilt” in discussions about breastfeeding. And – spoiler alert – they found that risk-based language did not increase breastfeeding intentions; rather, risk-based language reduced trust in the information provided. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by astuebe

May 4, 2016 at 11:23 am

Might there be risks of risk-based language?

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Six years ago, I wrote a blog reflecting on Diane Wiessinger’s seminal essay, “Watch your language.” “There are no benefits of breastfeeding,” I wrote. “There are risks of formula feeding.”

That post remains the most-viewed piece I’ve ever written, with more than 74,000 views as of this writing. I’ve taken the lesson to heart. I’ve published a peer-reviewed study on the increased risk of hypertension among women with curtailed breastfeeding, and I’ve flipped odds ratios in teaching slides and review articles to frame associations as the “risk of not breastfeeding” or the “risk of formula,” rather than the “benefits of breastfeeding.”

Weissinger’s 1996 essay rests on the position that breastfeeding is the physiologic norm, against which all other feeding methods should be compared. Moreover, she notes, mothers who are facing difficulties will be more likely to seek help to avoid a risk than to achieve a benefit:

When we fail to describe the hazards of artificial feeding, we deprive mothers of crucial decision-making information. The mother having difficulty with breastfeeding may not seek help just to achieve a ‘special bonus;’ but she may clamor for help if she knows how much she and her baby stand to lose.

Thus, when we talk about risks of formula, we will motivate mothers to “clamor for help,” and thereby increase breastfeeding rates and improve the health of mothers and babies.

It’s a compelling logical argument. And yet, I’ve been unable to find empirical evidence that it is true. To generate that evidence, we’d need to compare outcomes among mothers and babies counseled that formula increase risk with outcomes among those told that breastfeeding improves health and wellbeing. To my knowledge – and please let me know if there is a peer-reviewed study out there! – such a study has not been done. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by astuebe

April 13, 2016 at 3:51 pm

The Lancet Launches Breastfeeding Publication

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The Lancet has boldly stepped onto center stage to launch its new publication, Breastfeeding in the 21st Century. They state that “every mother and child no matter their location or circumstance, benefits from optimal breastfeeding practices.” They hosted the launch on January 29, 2016 in the Barbara Jordan Conference Center in the Kaiser Family Foundation building in Washington, D.C. The Conference Center symbolically honors Barbara Jordan, first African-American woman member of the Texas State Senate and then congresswoman from Texas starting in 1972. She was committed to fairness and to legislation that protects the underserved and the underrepresented.
The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine was invited, and Karla Shepard Rubinger was named. I, too, received an invitation to attend. Imagine going to Washington, staying overnight at a hotel to attend a two hour meeting! But I had to be there. I had to hear the discussion with my own ears and see the members of the program from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, USAID, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, to mention a few. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by ruthlawrence

February 4, 2016 at 1:53 pm

Arthur Eidelman deconstructs the latest breastfeeding-and-IQ study

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Would you do a study that “analyzed” the relationship of breastfeeding and IQ based on data obtained from mothers who retrospectively reported at 18 months postpartum if they did or did not breastfeed? Would you conclude anything if the data base was a yes or no answer, with no distinction made if it was exclusive breastfeeding or partial (of any degree) and with absolutely no data provided as to duration of the breastfeeding? Believe or not that was the basis for the “conclusion” by researchers in England that was published in the open access journal PLOS/one, widely reported the lay press and trumpeted gleefully by the disparagers of breastfeeding.

No less than these glaring methodological deficiencies, is the misreading by the “public” of what the authors themselves studied. As they stated, the study was NOT on IQ per se, but rather on IQ growth trajectories. Or to put it simply, if breastfeeding increased a child’s IQ as measured by the initial IQ test and the child maintained that degree of increased IQ as compared to children who did not breastfeed, there would be no increased growth trajectory.

Thus, extrapolating from trajectory data to absolute levels of IQ and concluding that breastfeeding has no impact on IQ is just plain wrong (let alone ignoring the wealth of articles in literature that support the conclusion that breastfeeding does increase IQ : see the most recent review: Effects of Breastfeeding on Obesity and Intelligence: Causal Insights From Different Study Designs. Smithers LG, Kramer MS, Lynch JW. JAMA Pediatr. 2015 Aug)

Given this combination of the basic limitations of methodology coupled with the misinterpretation of the study results, one must conclude that in no way does this study contradict what is a given: breastfeeding is critical quantitative positive variable in the cognitive development of all children. Furthermore, as a measure of the limited value of the study, one should note that authors did not even cite the issue of the lack of data as to the quantity of breast milk that the infants ingested over time in their list of the limitations of the study, let alone, did they indicate the lack of data as to major confounders such as maternal IQ and quality of home environment.

Bottom line is that this study should be discounted in any serious discussion as to the relationship of breastfeeding and IQ!

Dr. Arthur I Eidelman is a Professor of Pediatrics at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Jerusalem, Israel. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Breastfeeding Medicine, past president of ABM, and a Fellow of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.

Posts on this blog reflect the opinions of individual ABM members, not the organization as a whole.

Written by aeidelmanmd

October 8, 2015 at 5:05 pm

Breastfeeding Reducing Childhood Obesity: Fact, Fiction or Sometimes?

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Over the past 3 decades, an increasing number of studies and reviews have examined the relationship of breastfeeding and childhood obesity. The authors of Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s (AHRQ) Evidence Report on Breastfeeding meta-analysis concluded that children who were breastfed for at least 3 months were less likely to be obese than those never breastfed, taking into account multiple confounding factors.1 The duration of breastfeeding was found to be inversely related to the risk of being overweight; each month of breastfeeding being associated with a 4% reduction in risk. A WHO meta-analysis from 2007 also concluded that longer breastfeeding (typically durations of 3 to 9 months), in comparison to no breastfeeding, was associated with lower rates of obesity.2 The Framingham Offspring study noted a relationship of breastfeeding and a lower BMI in adults.3 A sibling difference model study showed that the breastfed siblings weighed 13 pounds less than formula fed siblings at a mean age of 14 and were less likely to reach BMI obesity threshold.4 Based upon these studies, the promotion of breastfeeding to prevent obesity has been recommended by the CDC, the Institute of Medicine, and the Surgeon General.

However, there are, however, other important studies that failed to find a relationship. The PROBIT study, the only randomized trial of breastfeeding in term infants, randomized an intervention to promote increased duration and exclusivity of breastfeeding in Belarus and found no significant differences in BMI, percent body fat, and obesity between the experimental and control group children at 11.5 years of age.5 The “discordant sibling study” looked at data obtained from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth study and found that breastfeeding was not associated with significant improvements in childhood obesity when siblings who were fed differently during infancy, one breastfed, the other bottle fed, were compared.6

So how are we to interpret these conflicting studies? My opinion has been that, as the etiology of obesity is multifactorial, breastfeeding can play an important role in its prevention, but is unlikely to entirely prevent it. The limitation of most of these studies is that they look at breastfeeding alone. Future studies need to focus on the role of multiple modifiable factors on these conditions. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by galactodoc

February 10, 2015 at 12:15 pm

Posted in Breastfeeding, In the news, research

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Breast Milk CMV and the risk of feeding the VLBW infant

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The recently published article by Josephson and colleagues confirms that serious infections due to postnatally acquired CMV in very low birth weight infants are a real concern. The study documented that properly screened (CMV seronegative) and filtered blood and blood components effectively blocks transmission of CMV from these previously documented sources and in turn confirmed that the primary source of transmission is maternal milk from seropositive mothers. Of the infants who were exposed to mother’s breast milk that was positive for CMV, 15 % developed serologic evidence of CMV disease and less than 3% developed significant clinical disease, including NEC, with a mortality of 60% (3/5).

Of importance to note was the fact that the study was performed primarily by a team of hematologists and transfusion experts and unfortunately lack any details as to the clinical course of the infected infants — there were no data on birth weight or gestational age data, no indication as to quantity of milk ingested, when breastfeeding was initiated, the percentage of raw milk ingested versus frozen thawed milk, post natal age of onset if disease, bowel biopsy or post mortem findings. Furthermore not all the mothers had their milk tested for presence of CMV. Thus, these significant methodological limitations preclude accurate mathematical calculations as to actual risk of feeding human milk to the VLBW infant. Furthermore, the absence of any basic clinical data precludes identifying who are the truly high-risk infants. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by aeidelmanmd

September 29, 2014 at 6:56 am

Posted in In the news, research