Breastfeeding and Formula health statistics

(15 Posts)
lisamaltby Sat 30-Aug-14 11:40:48

Hi! I don't know if anyone can help me but I'm trying to find out health statistics for breast milk compared to formula. I know there are lots of 'facts' online but they're all a bit woolly - e.g.. your baby is less likely to have problems with obesity - yes, but HOW MUCH less likely? I am looking to get actual statistics and percentages. Also a lot of these facts do not give the background for the findings - e.g.. "breastfeeding lowers the chances of post natal depression" but when this research was done on people who CHOSE to bottle-feed post natal depression was low (meaning that on the whole the depression was out of a sense of failure or pressure to breastfeed). A lot of facts also take into account third world countries which would give very different statistics to just looking at the UK.

Anyone know if there are documents online with full health statistics for the UK?

Thanks for your help!

tiktok Sat 30-Aug-14 13:13:59

You can find information on stats at UNICEF Baby Friendly -
and for detailed info, you need to read the actual papers - that's where you will find the methodology and the background, including what variables were controlled for. 'Headline' reports are no good for that.

You can also find detailed stats on infant feeding if you search on infant feeding survey UK.

Another source of detailed info is the Cochrane library - plenty of Cochrane systematic reviews on infant feeding, all on line.

NHS Choices is also good if you have a specific news report you want analysed; it explains the research and how far you can believe what's in the newspapers.

Hope this helps - ask again if you need more info.

lisamaltby Sat 30-Aug-14 22:05:14

That's amazing, thank you! There doesn't seem to be many conclusive statistics or full explanations of results unless you pay for subscriptions to research sites. It seems I need a degree in statistics! Thanks so much for your help though, great resources and much appreciated.

tiktok Sat 30-Aug-14 22:08:22

Think you have been looking in the wrong places if you are still faced with paywalls. Cochrane is free, Infant Feeding surveys are all free, as are loads of other papers. If there is something specific, ask me!

lisamaltby Sun 31-Aug-14 11:53:13

I've wanted to look into actual statistics since a lot of the 'facts' are misleading eg. The recent news that breastfeeding lowers the chances of post natal depression when studies actually show that this is mainly due to the pressure women feel to breastfeed and women who chose to bottle feed from day one have low rates of postnatal depression.

So I'm wanting to look into other things such as 'breast-feeding lowers obesity rates' or things like increasing immune system - I have read lots of evidence for this but it is hard to conclude HOW MUCH by (actual statistics).

For example one study says that chances of children getting asthma in the first two years after being exclusively breastfed for 6 months is 7.7% as opposed to 12%, but other studies say different, and that it is only in the first two years of life, so it is hard to conclude. Some studies also don't go into details about the socioeconomic groups of the people included in the studies or if there are any hereditary influences. The cochrin library is good but not many studies are shown on there for the specific things I'm looking for.

I am not a researcher or scientist, just a Joe bloggs looking to be informed on statistics as I don't feel knowledgable enough about it!

tiktok Sun 31-Aug-14 13:14:34

Your example - the pnd one - is a good instance of why reading the whole paper is important. In common with other studies, this paper shows that pnd is lower in bf women, overall. But it also shows it is higher in women who wanted to bf and did not - these women may not have appeared in other studies because they did not bf for long. Once you include them, it rules out the possibility that it is the 'desire to breastfeed' that reduces the risk of pnd. It appears to be actually breastfeeding that reduces the risk. 'Cos if it was just the 'desire' to do it, there would be no difference between those who actually did it, and those who didn't.

This study looked at 14000 Uk women - a massive sample, and this adds to its validity.

We can say all this strongly suggests a relationship between bf and emotional and mental well-being. It could be hormonal, and it could be social. The women with the lowest risk of pnd were the ones who bf and bf happily. They had a lower risk than women who ff.

It is not surprising that women who wanted to bf and then did not, experience a double whammy effect. They did not bf, so no protective effect, and they were disappointed. In life, major disappointment especially can lead to depression.

The obesity studies are more difficult to analyse because controlling for social and other factors is a big obstacle.

tiktok Sun 31-Aug-14 13:14:58

No evidence that it is pressure to bf, btw.

tiktok Sun 31-Aug-14 16:46:18

You can get the whole study here - no paywall smile

The study does not give evidence that 'pressure to breastfeed' has any effect on the incidence of PND. They have not sought to examine this - this would not be appropriate in a basically quantitative ('counting') study like this. You would need some qualitative research with a smaller, in-depth sample for this.

You're interested in research, you say, so you have to be careful not to infer or imagine stuff that the research simply does not say. Where did you get the idea from that the paper linked pressure with PND? I can't find this even in the newspaper reports (which often get things wrong!).

Of course it may be the case the pressure makes a difference - but this paper does not show it.

lisamaltby Sun 31-Aug-14 17:15:46

Thank you!

Sorry, perhaps I shouldn't have used the word 'pressure' but 'expectations'. The study makes it clear that women who expected to breastfeed and couldn't had higher risk of post natal depression, concluding that these women need more support.

"The highest risk was found among women who had planned to breastfeed, but had not initiated breastfeeding. They were two-and-a-half times more likely to develop PPD by 8 weeks compared to women who did not plan to breastfeed and didn’t (OR 2.55, 95% CI 1.34 to 4.84)."

“Our results underline the importance of providing expert breastfeeding support to women who want to breastfeed, but also of providing compassionate support for women who had intended to breastfeed, but who find themselves unable to,” they argue.

It does make you wonder why they may have such negative feelings connected with not being able to breastfeed though, which obviously raises lots of questions as to how well women are informed and supported about feeding (a whole other study!). This study suggests that women who can't breastfeed could be given a lot more support.


tiktok Sun 31-Aug-14 17:30:07

You're right - but they don't even use the word 'expectations' and nor should we smile, except for perhaps saying they 'expected' to breastfeed. In any case, that is different from 'pressure', and you see that now, I know.

They 'planned' to breastfeed and they 'wanted' to breastfeed, but they did not - in fact these women did not breastfeed at all. We have no idea what their 'expectations' were - maybe they actually expected it to be dreadful but still 'planned' on doing it!

I think women who wanted to breastfeed and didn't are clearly a very vulnerable group, and need to be recognised as such. Any initiatives to support postnatal mental health should focus especially on this group.

4yoniD Sun 31-Aug-14 17:31:56

Don't know if it will help but try Kellymom - their own articles are well researched and have the list of all the research reports etc they used (I'm behind dense and it has a name like bibliography or something but can't think!)

lisamaltby Sun 31-Aug-14 20:44:06

Thankyou! smile

Annarose2014 Mon 01-Sep-14 01:00:55

I've heard that all BF vs FF are inherently flawed, as you cannot make a subject choose one or the other.

As opposed to a study where say, one group is given a drug and the other is given a placebo.

You cannot take a group of 1000 women, mix them completely randomly in every social way, and make 500 of them FF and 500 of them BF.

Therefore you have subjects who have chosen one or the other, and these reasons could be influencing outcomes. For example, in Western countries some social-economic groups of women with certain levels of education/income are much more likely to BF than others - do the results come from the BFing or other factors in that childs upbringing?

I truly believe that there are so many variables in these studies that you have to take them all with a pinch of salt.

tiktok Mon 01-Sep-14 07:30:25

There are many areas of study which by their very nature can't be subject to a randomised controlled trial. Of course you cannot make a person do something like bf in order to compare them with someone who has been made to do something else smile

But the RCT is only one of many ways to research.

It's not correct to say you have to take non-RCT research with a pinch of salt.

There is a huge amount of benefit from epidemiological studies - this pnd/bf study is an example. You need a massive sample for best results ( as there is here) so you can control for variables.

Much excellent and well accepted public health research is not RCT. The links between smoking and health, alcohol abuse and health, and a ton of other stuff are impossible to explore with an RCT.

tiktok Mon 01-Sep-14 07:33:28

Anna when you read whole studies you can see if the researchers have controlled for the variables. Mostly, in bf/ff research they do, because the choice to bf/ff is socially mediated.

The study discussed here controls for several variables.

Please don't dismiss all bb/ff research or assume it is inherently flawed.

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