It would be an understatement to say that extended breastfeeding can be controversial, and there’s another controversy afoot. Rain Florence is a pro-breastfeeding mom who is making waves with her hard-line stance: Florence plans to breastfeed her now 3-year-old son until he is 6, taking inspiration from Einstein.
In addition to being a loving mama, Florence is also a vlogger and health enthusiast. She’s spent the past three and a half years documenting her journey of breastfeeding her son on her personal blog, Fig Theory. Already a supporter of healthy eating, exercise and wet-nursing, Florence has made it her mission to make breastfeeding more accepted by the general public.
In her latest vlog, Florence upped the ante. She revealed that she plans to breastfeed her son until age 6, just like Einstein’s mother did. Her argument was very simple: Breast milk is chock-full of nutrients that science says can support brain development. Einstein was (allegedly) breastfed by his mother for a minimum of 6 years, and he was a genius. You do the math.
“I am breastfeeding the next Einstein,” Florence said.
Hey, a mom’s got to do what a mom’s got to do! But the controversy swirling over her choice misses that it’s a personal choice — and no one says other moms have to do it.
In fact, extended breastfeeding, even up until the age of 6, is normal in plenty of other cultures, but scientists have yet to agree on the benefits of breastfeeding. At best, the breastfeeding research that new moms so desperately seek is mixed, with some studies touting the benefits of extended breastfeeding, while others say the breastfeeding buzz is overblown.
Here is some of the most compelling — and contradictory — research available on breastfeeding to date to help you make your choice:
- Longer breastfeeding makes babies richer and smarter: In a major Brazilian study published in the Lancet Global Health journal, researchers observed 6,000 babies over three decades, starting in 1982. The breastfed babies in the study were better educated and made more money.
- Breastfeeding supports baby’s brain growth: In an MRI study conducted by Brown University, brain images from “quiet” MRI machines were used to measure brain development in babies. Researchers discovered that exclusive breastfeeding, compared to supplementing breast milk and formula or exclusive formula use, more effectively boosted a baby’s brain growth.
- Breast milk doesn’t make babies smarter: Nursing moms may refer to breast milk as “liquid gold,” but Brigham Young University sociologists beg to differ. BYU sociologists say that breastfed babies may have higher IQs and perform better in school not because of actual breast milk, but because breastfeeding mothers are more likely to respond to children’s emotional cues and promote early reading.
- Breastfeeding can’t beat DNA: Researchers agree that breastfed babies may be smarter, but not for the reason you’d think. Many breastfed babies may have higher intelligence scores than bottle-fed babies, but it’s not in the juice. An American mom with an IQ 15 points higher than her neighbor is more than twice as likely to breastfeed, and these smart genes may be passed on to her children.
- Breastfeeding has no long-term benefits: In an attempt to examine the “breast is best” claim, Cynthia Colen, an Ohio State sociologist, conducted the largest long-term breastfeeding study to date, with results published in the journal Social Science & Medicine. When Colen compared bottle-fed and breastfed siblings within the same families, there weren’t any long-term breastfeeding benefits to be found.
In other words: Florence could be on to something. Or not!
If this research tells us anything, it’s that breastfeeding results are mixed at best, and extended breastfeeding is the type of decision every mother has to make for herself. While one mother may be taking heat for claiming she can breastfeed her son to genius status, another mother could breastfeed for just as long without any noticeable boost in IQ.
This brings us back to choice. Florence has every right to breastfeed her son for as long as she sees fit, and she’s making great strides in championing her cause to normalize extended breastfeeding in developed countries. But her claim that extended breastfeeding could make babies smarter is just that: It’s her opinion. And it’s also her right to breastfeed her son until he’s 6 if she wants to.