Opinion – So now breastfeeding can ‘protect’ babies from autism? I give up!

Last week I read an article in the Mirror Online entitled; Breastfeeding ‘could protect babies from autism’ claim scientists behind new study. The research was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Journal.

Well this instantly got my back up but I continued to read it, although I knew I shouldn’t.

The first thing I noticed was that no link was given to the research that was carried out and the only researcher that was named was Kathleen Krol, who was quoted as saying:

“This genotype has been associated with higher rates of autism.

“These findings underline the importance of maternal care and oxytocin in early development of responding to social eye cues.”

I find this very vague and to be honest, I have no idea how these findings came about. What the media have managed to do though  in the reporting of this research, is to label autism as something that is to be feared and that if you breastfeed your baby you can ‘protect’ them.

I despair, I really do. What about all of the mothers out there who bottle fed their baby? What will they now think if their child is diagnosed with autism? Yet one more unnecessary guilt trip to be endured. The reporting of this research is just awful. It is also not true. I breastfed my youngest son for 6 months and he is autistic.

The line, ‘Breastfeeding could boost pro-social behaviour in children who have a genetic predisposition to autism‘ is also just not true. No one knows what causes autism. The study was also only carried out on 98 infants.

I cannot comment on the research findings as I have been unable to access and read them, but I do feel that the media is misinterpreting what the researchers have found by making such sweeping statements. One such statement being that the,  ‘study found babies with a gene mutation that put them at risk of the disorder were more sociable if they were suckled.’

The further biased opinion in the Mirror carries on with the following:

‘Breast milk contains “love hormone” oxytocin, which promotes trust and confidence, and reduces fear.’

Need I say any more?

We all know the benefits of breastfeeding, but some women choose not to and for some breastfeeding is not possible. They do not need biased media opinion such as this one to further place more feelings of guilt upon them or indeed to put extra pressure on them to breastfeed so that their child is ‘protected ‘ from autism.

A further article that  I read on ‘The Health Site‘ about this research shed more light onto what the researchers found.

The article states:

‘ Krol and her team studied 98 infants, all of them seven months old and half of them with two copies of a ‘risk’ variant of the gene CD38, to determine what effect breast-feeding has on babies’ perception of emotions.’

What I found most interesting though was the following:

‘The study concluded that breast-feeding is associated with an enhanced sensitivity to emotions in babies, but the authors and other experts stressed that there is no evidence yet that breast-feeding ultimately affects a child’s odds of developing autism or that it lessens the severity of autism symptoms.’

This was not mentioned in the Mirror article.

Do we really need this research?

I am not so sure. Research is good, of course it is, but only if it is helpful. Women choose to breastfeed for a number of different reasons. I really don’t think that they need more pressure on how they choose to feed their baby. And as for the stated fact that babies could be ‘protected’ from autism. Well that is just so very wrong, on so many different levels.


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About Jo Worgan

Jo Worgan is a published author, writer and blogger. She has a degree in English Literature. She writes about life with her youngest son who is on the autistic spectrum. Jo tweets (@mummyworgan) and is also a freelance columnist for the Lancaster Guardian. ‘My Life with Tom, Living With Autism‘ is her second book and a culmination of her blog posts, and available on Kindle now, along with her first book, Life on the Spectrum. The Preschool years.