Breast is best, we all know that. But for how long do we expect to see the benefits of breastfeeding? Into toddlerhood, childhood, teen years, adulthood? It seems that some people think there is just no end to how long we will continue to see benefits from a child who is breastfed, but I have to say I certainly can’t walk into any of my kids classrooms and point to the one who was breastfed and the one who was formula fed. The kid eating paste very well could have been fed either way. The young girl who’s more interested in boys than her studies could have been breastfed for all I know. The child who has skipped two grades and is on track for Harvard, he might have been a formula fed baby for all I know.
My own kids are proving to be my own little case study here at home. I have breastfed at varying degrees. From not at all to over a year. Since my youngest is only 2 I suppose we have many more years to see the long term effects of her breastfeeding into toddlerhood, but you know what? Even from the very beginning you couldn’t see a huge benefit that was received from breastfeeding. I mean not anything that would have someone walking up to me on the street when I wasn’t feeding my child and say that’s a breastfed baby isn’t it? Or that baby has only had formula.
How It Breaks Down In My Family
So here’s how things have gone up until now in our family. My oldest daughter (14) was born full term, with no complications in pregnancy or delivery. I did not have any pain medication for her birth. She came out a good 8 pounds 12 ounces and mad at the world. A nice healthy set of lungs on her. And she received not a drop of breastmilk. At 17 months old she started birth to three for speech and received speech until the middle of her Kindergarten year. By the time she was in 4th grade she was being tested for the gifted program and accepted. She was the only one in her class who knew her times tables forwards and backwards. Now she is in her final year of middle school. She’s in two advanced classes maintains a B average (but definitely could get straight A’s), tests above grade level in reading and math on standardized tests, and is on the college track. She will be taking 3 AP classes in high school next year. Health wise she has been extremely healthy. Her first major illness that required antibiotics was at 9 months old when she got bronchitis. She had a bout with ear infections when she was around 5, but since then the only time she sees the doctor is when she goes in for her physical, or we’re there for one of her siblings. This is the 100% of the time up until a year formula fed child.
Next, is my 11 year old daughter. My pregnancy with her had some concerns with my blood pressure and an elevated heart rate, but for the most part it was an uneventful pregnancy. My delivery with her was shockingly easier than that of her sisters. She was 8 pounds 15 ounces at birth. We did have a little trouble in the beginning with her with mucous which made her not want to eat much, but I did start out breastfeeding her. She did pretty good for a day or so, but as soon as my milk came in she didn’t want it and I gave up and we switched to formula. So she got the colostrum only. She met milestones in the beginning either early or on time. She picked up on talking very quickly and hasn’t stopped since. While I thought she was going to be running by 9 months it took her a little longer to find her land legs, but she was walking by 13 months. Once she started school that was where the trouble began. This kid is a whiz with numbers, but reading and writing quickly became a struggle for her. She is plugging right along in school now and is the hardest working kid you will ever meet. She aims to please, that’s for sure. Reading words might be a struggle for her, but reading music does not seem to be. She has been getting really good at the clarinet. It might be too soon to tell what the future holds for her. But I do know her IQ is in the average range which is just where I like it. On standardized tests she might test below grade level in reading, but above grade level in math. Health wise she has been okay. She does have asthma. It’s exercise induced and can be made worse by some of her allergies (we need to get away from the pine). Other than that her childhood illnesses have been pretty typical and minor. So this was the colostrum only child of mine, the rest of the time it was formula.
Then there is my 5 year old son. My pregnancy was not without its issues. Again the blood pressure, but then also gestational diabetes. He had to be born via c-section because he was breech with the cord wrapped around his neck twice. I did not labor with him at all, it was a scheduled c-section. He was 7 pounds 12 ounces at birth. When he came out we put him to breast as soon as we were in the recovery room. He was having some trouble regulating his temperature so he had to be left under the warming lights. His sugar levels were a bit of a concern as well. We breastfed though. Then he was jaundice and needed to be left under the bilirubin lights. He was only allowed out every hour for about 15 minutes or so if I recall correctly. I would breastfeed him, but he also needed to have formula to help him poop out all of the added bilirubin. Once he was discharged he was only getting breastmilk. It was not easy. He quickly began falling off the growth curve. By the time he was 3 months old he ended up in the hospital being tested for all sorts of things and finally they decided that he needed to be on a high calorie formula; I just wasn’t producing enough breastmilk. That lead to the end of our breastfeeding relationship. It also lead to him being delayed in gross motor and needing physical therapy. He did not sit up until he was 8 months and walk until he was 15 months. He has been behind in most things from his classmates since starting school, but that’s likely due to his younger age. He has had several ear infections over the years and from about October until April he tends to have a permanently runny nose. That does seem to be improving the older he gets. He is a smart, creative, fun loving little boy though. I don’t really know where I see his life going just yet. He had 3 months of breastmilk and then formula until a year and Pediasure until he was 2.
And last, but certainly not least is my youngest daughter who is 2. I had all the same problems with her pregnancy that I had with my son only with the added worry of a pregnancy loss before her. And well, she wasn’t breech. I didn’t need a c-section for her. I did have some pain medication during her labor though. She was not a happy camper when she came out either. All 7 pounds 9 ounces of her screamed and screamed and screamed until she was put to the breast. Her sugar got a little low and they gave her a little formula in the beginning there, but that was the only time it was needed. She was exclusively breastfed for 9 months actually (she wouldn’t eat baby food so she didn’t get anything but breast milk until she could eat table food). This exclusively breastfed child of mine had an ear infection at 2 weeks old. She was pretty healthy after that. I think she has had two more ear infections since that one. She is in birth to three for speech therapy like her older sister was. We will see if she continues to receive speech after she turns 3. Other than that developmentally has been very typical. She has been just about as healthy as the rest of the kids. I have no idea what the future holds for her. She was exclusively breastfed for 9 months and continued with table food until 14 months.
So There You Have It
That’s four children who have each had their own struggles in life and for the most part the same amount of health problems. And yet they all couldn’t possibly have been fed any more different. My two youngest who had the most breast milk have also both been the ones to struggle the most with keeping weight on or gaining weight. The struggles and triumphs that they have in life really truly don’t seem to have any correlation with how they were fed to start out with though. There are a number of factors which play into a person’s IQ and health. I have no doubt that breast milk can provide the antibodies needed to fight off infection in the early stages of life. Even though my 2 year old got an ear infection at 2 weeks old it’s possible that breastfeeding helped it not turn into something worse. And I do know that she got her 2nd ear infection right after she stopped breastfeeding. Probably not a coincidence. But she was over a year old and her immune system had developed enough to make its own antibodies. And with a little help of antibiotics it cleared up.
Since the World Health Organization (WHO) has come out again to say there’s no long term health benefit to breastfeeding, then I think it’s safe to say that no one should feel guilty for not having breastfed at all or even for stopping at a certain age. Because in the long run, years from now, none of this matters. It doesn’t matter how a child was born, it doesn’t matter what her first food was, and it certainly doesn’t matter how long she received that first food. As long as she is receiving the proper nutrients our children are going to grow up to be who they are going to be regardless of whether or not you breastfed fed them for 5 days or 5 years. There just is no considerable physical or intellectual difference based on the length of time a child breastfeeds.
Can you tell which adults have been formula fed and which where breastfed and for how long?