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Parents Magazine Says There's Nothing Special About Breastmilk

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Oh yeah, you read that right.

From the current (August 2007) issue of Parent's Magazine.

THE CLAIM Breast milk is best for babies.

THE TRUTH: Study after study has documented that breast milk can boost a baby's immune system and IQ and lower his risk for diabetes, obesity, even ADHD. So it's no wonder that the AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 mo. after birth. But not everyone is convinced that mother's milk is a panacea. "Most benefits associated with breastfeeding probably have as much to do with the child's environment and the family's socioeconomic status," says Parents advisor Darshak Sanghavi, M.D., author of A Map of the Child: A Pediatrician's Tour of the Body. "They're not due to some magical substance in breast milk."

THE BOTTOM LINE: Women who want to should certainly breastfeed, but don't feel guilty if you can't.

(bolding is mine...)

Now, I read that and I see this...

Study after study has shown over and over that breast milk has benefits that cannot be reproduced by formula use.

But this ONE doctor says s/he doesn't believe it.

Therefore, that ONE doctor may be a moron. I know I'd be switching to another health care provider if MY doctor chose to ignore medical fact in favor of their own theory.

Unfortunately, millions and million of women will read that, ignore the studies and say "well that person says it's not true and s/he is a DOCTOR! See!!! I told you there was no difference between breast milk and formula."

Let's hear it for responsible reporting.

Want to share your opinion on their idea of educating their readers? Use their online contact form.

This is the type of thing that reminds me over and over why I don't give my hard earned money to the publishers of any of these parenting type magazines...

Labels: ,

  1. Blogger Hot Librarian | 7:42 AM |  

    I subscribed to this magazine because $12/3 years seemed like a good value, so why not? Now I'm sorry I wasted my money. Here's the letter I sent. Lactivist readers, feel free to copy it!

    As a breastfeeding mom and a Parents subscriber, I am disgusted that you would print the suggestion that formula feeding is just as good as breastfeeding based on the comments of ONE doctor (In "Can You Build a Better Baby", pg. 137-138 of the August issue). Because of your comments as a trusted source for parents, countless women who are struggling with breastfeeding will now opt not to seek assistance so that they may nurse successfully, but will rather switch to formula thanks to this article's implication that formula feeding and breastfeeding are the same. Why would you so cavalierly dismiss the "study after study" that you yourselves reference! Breast IS best, and your publication should be striving to support women in successful nursing, not encouraging them to give up.

    I request that my subscription be canceled immediately. I would much prefer my time and money be given to a publication that truly has the health and well being of its readers and their children in mind.

    I will be reprinting this letter on a variety of breastfeeding and mothering forums to draw attention to the callous attitude of Parents magazine towards the importance of breastfeeding.

    The Hot Librarian

  2. Anonymous rachel | 7:48 AM |  

    yeah... a little googling on this guy brings up his 'expertise' in breastfeeding...
    from :http://www.healthgrades.com/directory_search/physician/profiles/dr-md-reports/Dr-Darshak-Sanghavi-MD-9CA88D0F.cfm

    Dr. Sanghavi practices Cardiology and Pediatric Cardiology in Gallup, New Mexico. Dr. Darshak Sanghavi, a male, graduated from the Johns Hopkins University School Of Med with a MD and has been in the profession for 10 years.

    pediatric cardiology? 10 years in practice? the expert. sigh

    He apparently also thinks women who have natural births are crazy.

    a rebuttal this this article http://maternaldigressions.blogspot.com/2006/07/loaded-opinion-dr-darshak-sanghavi-and.html

    it seems that this guy just doesn't like women all that much.

  3. Blogger The Lactivist | 7:48 AM |  

    Excellent letter! (and GREAT user name too, lol!)

  4. Blogger Robin | 8:35 AM |  

    Wow! I am so glad I never paid for a subscription to this magazine. Just curious from anyone who actually gets the magazine how many formula ads are ther in this issue?

  5. Anonymous sinead@breastfeedingmums.com | 10:00 AM |  

    I am completely shocked that such a big publication would print such bull!

    I've blogged it and hopefully lots of other bloggers will too. Thanks for drawing this to our attention, Jen...

  6. Blogger Eilat | 10:13 AM |  

    I am inspired by The Hot Librarian.
    My mother-in-law bought me a subscription to Parents and I didnt know about it. The first issue I got was their earth day issue. No joke, one of their tips for helping to save the planet was to use organic formula (no mention of breastfeeding though).
    Ive been meaning to send them a letter and cancelling my subscription for a while. Now Im motivated to do so.
    I did see the paragraph you mention in their article, but what really alarmed me was a column earlier in the issue entitled "A Better Formula?" about how there are these new formulas that have live cultures in them and something about how the main difference between the intestines of breastfed babies and ff babies is the "flora" of their intestines. So, with this new breed of formulas, this article not-so-subtly suggests that now there's no difference. Its as good as breastmilk. (Ill try to dig up the issue if I havent trashed it yet and send the exact text. Its appaling!).

    Lets face it, formula companies are the bread and butter of these magazines. They pay the bills. You cant badmouth them and still make $$$, who do you think they are "Mothering"? ;-)
    Every issue that I get, I make a fun game of counting the # of formula ads, usually about 4-6 (though one issue had a miraculous 2 and as many breast pump ads. It was just a fluke, though).

  7. Blogger Ali | 10:25 AM |  

    Dr. Darshak Sanghavi has an axe to grind when it comes to breastfeeding; his wife was unsuccessful at breastfeeding, and as research has shown, personal experience has a huge impact on a doctor's recommendations on this issue. See this article which he wrote for the Boston Globe, titled, "Sure, breast is best, but is it worth it?"

    He also treated Boston Globe readers to a nasty piece about women who choose natural child birth, titled "The Mother Lode of Pain."

  8. Blogger Heather | 10:45 AM |  

    Is there a board that we can report that crack pot doctor to? He needs to be held accountable for his professional behavior. I wrote them and couldn't be rational. I'm sure they'll print loads of replies from ff mothers who appreciate the good "sense" of them and none of the rebuttals from bf moms.

  9. Blogger Ms D | 12:07 PM |  

    I wonder if this doctor has any children. Maybe he is one of those guys that are jealous of his baby because baby gets to "play" with "his toys" more that he does.

    If I recall Parents has a generous amount of formula advertisements. Hmmm..... Just who funded the research for this article?

  10. Blogger Tere | 12:26 PM |  

    You know what I find interesting? In the U.S., BF is deemed a socio-economic thing (only people who make more than XXX dollars have the "luxury" to do it); and in the rest of the world, indigenous/poor populations breastfeed (in fact, in some societies BF is looked down on as something "the natives" do and wealthier women won't do it for that reason).

    I know it's a tangent to the point of your post - but that socio-economic b.s. caught my attention. I don't read Parents magazine, and this is why!

  11. Blogger Cagey | 12:50 PM |  

    It's nice that a magazine that is "supposed" to be a resource for parents would stoop so low to sensationalism like this. Oh sure, I do enjoy a good scandal, but prefer to find mine in US Weekly and the likes.

    Furthermore, the illustrious Doctor is INDIAN. He of all people should realize the risks of promoting formula over breastmilk considering what an issue it is in INDIA. Grrr.....

  12. Blogger mamaloo | 3:01 PM |  

    Isn't this National Breastfeeding Awareness Month in the US? Seems the editors at Parents didn't read the memo put out by the Department of Health and Human Services (sponsors of National Breastfeeding Awareness Month) and missed the part about promoting breastfeeding as the optimal feeding method for all families and figured they pitch in to the cause by making us aware that breastfeeding is a big hassle that doesn't matter in the end.

    Another example where the line between editorial and advertising gets blurred/erased in big publishing.

  13. Anonymous Carrie at Natural Moms Talk Radio | 8:08 PM |  

    Parents is great for a laugh. I wouldn't ever have subscribed but a friend gave me a gift subscription.

    It's good for cutting up pictures of babies to paste into a book for my 2 year old. Oh and a gluing surface.

    But yeah... the cosleeping and breastfeeding info sucks.

  14. Blogger alisaterry | 10:31 PM |  

    What a bunch of BS. That's why I don't read mainstream magazines. They'll pretty much publish anything.

  15. Anonymous sarat | 2:40 AM |  

    I argee, this article in Parents is irresponsible because it doesn't provide information about any of the studies. I did, though, look at the doctor's article in the Boston Globe (provided above by Ali), and didn't think it was horrible. He quotes studies from journals like the Lancet, New England Journal of Medicine, and Pediatrics. When he writes about his wife, he mentions that she not only wanted to breastfeed, she also sought help from a lactation consultant when things weren't going well. In the end, he says that he encourages breast-feeding, but that "Families shouldn't feel guilty for passing up exclusive breast-feeding if it's highly stressful or alienates them from their babies."

    My son is 13 months old and I still breastfeed him. However, I was in PAIN for the first 3 months of his life (This, despite taking a breastfeeding course, doing a ton of reading, seeing 3 different lactaion consultants, and taking medications for everything from thrush to Raynaud's). I really did experience moments when my physical discomfort "alienated" me from my son. I think this doctor had a fair point to make, though, sadly, he isn't fair at all in this article in Parents.

  16. Blogger Jennifer | 4:42 AM |  

    Holy, how much hate mail do you think they might get? Rough estimate? This is insane.

  17. Anonymous Anonymous | 4:58 AM |  

    I just don't understand how the American Academy of Peds and the WHO say to breastfeed and why, yet doctors dispute it... aren't they sort of required to support these organizations being part of the medical field?

  18. Anonymous Anonymous | 4:59 AM |  

    I just don't understand how the American Academy of Peds and the WHO say to breastfeed and why, yet doctors dispute it... aren't they sort of required to support these organizations being part of the medical field?

  19. Blogger Jennifer James | 1:47 PM |  

    He sounds like this troll who kept coming to my blog. She claimed that "breast is best" claims are "voodoo science." I know this doctor is well-trained, but really, what rock did he just crawl out from under?

  20. Blogger Eilat | 9:09 AM |  

    This is veering a bit off the topic, but to answer anonymous (comment 17), doctors are not required to go along with what their colleagues say, and in general, I think that is a good thing (obviously I disagree in this case).
    The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recently made a statement advising against giving birth in any setting other than a hospital (incl. freestanding birth centers and, of course, homebirths)
    e.g., http://childbirthconnection.org/article.asp?ck=10465

    I think its a good thing that there are practitioners that stray from their colleagues collective statements, in general. I makes it possible for people to have choice in how their provider approaches healthcare.

  21. Anonymous Anonymous | 10:30 AM |  

    Jennifer, I am so glad you posted this. I was FURIOUS when I received that issue of Parents! The day I got it in the mail I immediately noticed both items and read them aloud to my mom, who was with me. I was shocked to see such anti-breastfeeding sentiments. And I too went through and counted the many formula ads and just shook my head. I am definitely canceling my subscription, and I think I'll send a letter too. Sometimes it frightens me what a harsh country this is for breastfeeders... with national publications like that perpetuating the idea that formula feeding is not just an option, but possibly as good or better of an option... no wonder I so rarely meet women here in Ohio who breastfeed. Sad, sad.


  22. Anonymous Karri Flatla | 8:26 PM |  

    As always, you rock my world, Miss Milk Thang! Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I'm a magazine buff but I will not be purchasing Parents Mag ever again.

    Shame on them. Like bf mothers don't have enough working against them in the western world. It's not the 60s for Pete's sake!


  23. Blogger Erin | 8:47 PM |  

    I'm not a bit surprised this was published in Parents Magazine. It's a total rag. I let my subscription run out because I was truly tired of seeing the Ferber-esque cry-it-out advice, the endless reviews (ads) for useless plastic devices that hold your baby for you, and the outrageously expensive outfits on the child models.

    I'm really really really tired of magazines, tv programs, and health care professionals tiptoeing around the decision not to breastfeed. Everyone is trying so hard not to offend those moms that the importantance, no, the vitalness of breastfeeding gets watered down. And in this article, it's watered down to the point that is unacceptable. Women who choose not to breastfeed have no one to apologize to but their own child, and if they feel "guilty" or "defensive" it's up to them to reconcile those feelings on their own. We did not make this stuff up about breastfeeding to make them feel bad for not doing it.

  24. Anonymous Anonymous | 4:48 AM |  

    What made me so angry was not even the BF vs. formula issue, but the fact that the magazine would present ANY single opinion as if the fact that it existed completely negated the body of scientific research. In the wake of NYC hospitals banning formula samples, I have actually seen a spate of similar articles where a single medical expert of dubious breastfeeding expertise (i.e., psychiatrists, general practitioners, etc.) are quoted saying that BF'ing is overrated and people shouldn't feel guilty about formula-feedingm and the writer presents this opinion as if it counterbalances actual fact. So sad.

    Here is the letter I submitted to Parents:
    RE: August 2007 Issue - Claim: Breastfeeding is Best for Babies

    I had to write and complain about your ludicrous item regarding the claim that breastfeeding is best for babies. Your dismissive tone towards overwhelming body of research demonstrating the superiority of breastmilk over formula for the health of both baby AND mother, and your focus on the medically questionable position of one of your own advisers, was a serious error. I agree that mothers who are unable or unwilling to breastfeed should not feel guilty, nor should any parent who is doing what they believe is best for their own family. However, that doesn't mean that we should twist the facts to ensure that no one feels "guilty" - and to brazenly bias your presentation of the facts for no apparent reason other than to offend the intellect of every intelligent reader (formula-feeding or breastfeeding alike) with your pandering will make me question everything else I read in your publication. In the world of blogs and cable-news talking heads, we know that you can find one person - even a doctor - to say ANYTHING, so to present a single viewpoint (no matter how qualified the individual may be) as if it counterbalances the weight of research by countless other scientific and healthcare professionals is doing a grave disservice to everyone looking for objective information.

    I submit that you would never consider publishing an item stating: Claim: A body of scientific research shows chemotherapy is effective in treating certain types of cancer. But, one doctor, whose qualifications apart from his affiliation with his magazine are not given, says it doesn't matter if you are treated with chemo or not! Bottom line: Take it or leave it!

    Now, a cancer patient has the RIGHT to accept or refuse any treatment without being judged. And a publication has the right to address minority medical opinions in an honest context. However, a reputable publication does NOT have the right to offer such a minority opinion as if it is on balance with the preponderance of current research. I think you should be ashamed of practicing such shoddy and shameless journalism in a publication meant to provide objective information to parents.

    Erin K

  25. Blogger Stacy | 4:51 AM |  

    Have you seen this article on bfing?


  26. Blogger Rebecca | 6:29 AM |  

    At a minimum the magazine should print a very pro-breastfeeding article.

  27. Blogger Brandy | 2:23 PM |  

    Disgusting, just disgusting.

  28. Blogger Ethel | 3:42 PM |  

    Definately do write if you have time - I don't, and I no longer suscribe to Parents. However, I found that BabyCenter (the website) seems to be improving the quality of its articles. I know I emailed them several times to complain about their biased or incorrect articles on cosleeping and the Lactation Amenorrhea Method (birth control), and both articles have since been fixed or improved.

    My personal feeling is that if a magazine cannot provide me with better information on parenting than what I could get spending the time it takes me to read the magazine doing my own research on the Internet, then it is not worth subscribing too. But I don't have time at the moment to write Parents and tell them that.

    Besides, I haven't been a suscriber for over a year because of fallacies like this. They did a great job of mixing up the facts to make moms feel guilty about cosleeping (not intentionally, just inadequate research so they didn't understand the results of the studies they were reporting on regarding cosleeping and SIDS). They didn't worry about Mommy guilt then, where did this concern about formula Mommy guilt come from?

  29. Anonymous Mary Jo | 4:17 PM |  

    Erin - your post is brilliant! We all make choices, but we try to make them based on the best available information - and supplying such awful information is indeed shameless!

    I didn't have much to say that hadn't been said, until I mentioned this article to my sister today. She has two kids, both of whom she nursed about 3 months, at which point she says she felt "like a cow" and switched to formula. So, she's obviously not a huge pro-breastfeeing mom, and has made comments to me in the past about nursing "too long" (DS was 20 months when he weaned).

    Interestingly enough, she thought the whole thing was crazy. She basically had the same reaction as most of the posters here (myself included). She was outraged that Parents would publish such a "ludicous" statement and wondered what could possibly motivate them to alientate so much of their reading audience. Despite multiple interuptions from our toddlers, she could not stop talking about how dumb the article was. She even said she was really glad she had chosen not to subscribe to Parents (in favor of another mainstream parenting magazine) recently. I imagine this article will go down in Parent's history as one of the worst choices made in the editorial room!

  30. Anonymous Jane | 9:36 AM |  

    hold on, here! "Correlation is not causation" -- over and over again I get irritated at studies that find correlations and thing they've proven something. The most recent was "obese children, on average miss more days of school -- therefore, being obese causes kids to miss school. Health consequences don't show up at this age; therefore, kids are skipping school because they're bullied." The reality could very well be that some of the factors that cause kids to be obese also contribute to missing school (for example, a dysfunctional household where kids neither get proper nutrition nor a kick in the pants to go to school).

    My point? I don't think anyone has ever done a randomized trial in which otherwise similar mothers are randomly told to breast- or bottle feed. Can you imagine participating in such a study and being told after signing up, "you must bottlefeed" or "you must breastfeed"? And without such a study you can't ever statistically prove breastfeeding benefits if, as I think is true, in any society where breastfeeding and bottlefeeding "compete," the breastfeeders are on average more consciencious about their child's well-being, more educated, more likely to do all the other things that you should do to ensure that your baby turns out OK.

    I breastfeed my baby. When I go back to work, I'll probably quit, because it would be quite a hassle and I'd have to work longer hours to make up for the time I'd lose to pumping. And, unless he has an allergic reaction, I don't think I'm doing such a horrible thing.

  31. Blogger The Lactivist | 10:04 AM |  


    No one is saying you are doing a bad thing if you stop breastfeeding your baby. What they are saying is that it is proven fact that breastmilk is BETTER for a child than formula.

    Guess what, grilled chicken and veggies are better for your kid than chicken nuggets and spagheti-o's. Nonetheless, Elnora sometimes eats chicken nuggets and spaghetti-o's because that's what i can fit into my day. ;)

    That said, there actually HAVE been quite a few studies that controlled for the issues you mention. Even if they don't do randomized trials, they can still do comparisions even within families.

    My daughter was bottlefed. I exclusively pumped breastmilk for her because of breastfeeding problems. Had I not known about pumping, she would have been formula fed.

    My son is breastfed.

    I know quite a few families where one child was breastfed and one formula fed.

  32. Blogger mom2two | 9:30 AM |  

    Thanks for posting this. It is so frustrating when people spin research and manipulate their words so that an entirely new message is constructed. I do think there are some folks out there who exaggerate the benefits of breastfeeding, I have seen it on message boards and it always annoyed me.

    Having 2 children who are/were exclusively breastfed and who have 2 completely different appetites, sleep habits, health issues (one has never had an ear infection, one has had 2 or 3), I can say that breastfeeding your child is not a *guarantee* that she or he will be healthier than a formula fed child. But I would still choose breastmilk over formula if given the choice, and I would encourage any new mom to breastfeed her child. And I would hope that any mom reading that article would to additional research and formulate her own opinion of the "facts" they are presenting.

  33. Anonymous moodymommy | 12:17 PM |  

    Thanks for putting the info out there on Parents mag. I can't believe the magazine published such poppycock. Anyway, what is so bad about guilt? Doesn't guilt and motherhood go hand in hand? I feel guilty about many things everyday. For example, I feel guilty that I am online right now instead of playing with my kids. It is a decision I've made, I feel guilty about it and that's just a fact. Mothers who don't even try to breastfeed should have feelings of guilt simply because it is better for them. Similarly, mothers (like me) who allow their children to watch too much tv should feel guilty too. Regardless, whether I feel guilty or not does not change the fact that they would be better off not watching tv. I wish everyone would just get off this fear of "offending" each other and just admit it -- breastfeeding is best, and if you don't do it, you are not providing your child the best source of nutrition period. We all feel guilty about our decisions, but we just can't let that color scientific facts!

  34. Anonymous Anonymous | 9:14 PM |  

    To Jane:
    There actually are a few randomized control trials of breastfeeding or breastfeeding intervention. One is the PROBIT trial in the Republic of Belarus. This was a randomized cluster trial of breastfeeding intervention, with the intervention group having much great duration of breastfeeding and also lower risk of gastrointestinal infections. The data from this trial is still be evaluated. The other was conducted by Lucas et al. in the 1980's and his results have been published in a number of articles which I'm sure you could find on the internet.

  35. Anonymous Anonymous | 8:03 PM |  

    In case you haven't thought of it, I thought I'd suggest that weaning completely is not your only option if you don't want to pump when you return to work. Many mothers supplement with formula while they are working and continue to nurse in the evenings, throughout the night and in the morning (anytime they are with the baby). Your body will adapt. There is actually a whole range of possibilities for continuing to nurse after returning to work, if that is what a mom desires. Certainly, it is what most babies desire!

    Best of luck.

  36. Blogger sophie | 6:15 AM |  

    I'm really not shocked that another doctor's "findings" are published and show how just how knowledgeable they are NOT!
    Breastfeeding is natural, it is by far the most nutritional but breastfeeding is also a choice that only a mother can make. Breastfeeding is a choice; the first of many you will have to make for your child, if you can I hope you choose to breastfeed.

  37. Blogger Kathie | 11:13 AM |  

    Sorry for commenting so late, since this post was in August--I'm a newbie to this site, but I'm loving every bit that I read!

    I was wondering, I subscribe to Parents, and despite my love of their Halloween costume ideas every year and some good articles, I'm thinking of letting my subscription expire because of the things I've read here. Are there any better magazines to subscribe to? I love getting my magazines each month, so I'd like a substitute for Parents.

  38. Blogger The Lactivist | 11:19 AM |  

    Good question. I don't get any parenting magazines, so I have absolutely no idea what's "good."

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