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The Internet Gets It Wrong Again: The CDC Does Support Breastfeeding

Often our patients at The Medical Group of South Florida come in to see us armed with the latest health “fact” they’ve seen on the Internet, usually concerned, sometimes alarmed, and we have to set the record straight. We don’t mind—that’s what we’re here for. But sometimes an online rumor is so egregious that we want to put the word out to everyone. One such persistent falsehood concerns vaccinations and breastfeeding.

This month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has once again been forced to refute the long-simmering Internet rumor that Snopes.com and other fact-checking organizations debunked back in January of 2015: that the CDC had recommended against breastfeeding infants to increase the efficacy of vaccines.

The Associated Press (AP), in reporting this month on the resurrected rumor, quoted Dr. Joan Younger Meek, a Tallahassee, FL, physician who chairs a breastfeeding panel for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). She said, “There is no recommendation from the CDC or the AAP that mothers delay breastfeeding to enhance vaccine efficacy.” She added, “Breast milk contains multiple immune protective factors, including whole cells which fight infections.”

She also explained that there is no need to interrupt or delay breastfeeding, because breast-fed babies sometimes respond better to immunizations than do infants on formula.

According to the AP, versions of the rumor posted by several websites linked to a small 2010 study in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, in which researchers were trying to discover why a vaccine against rotavirus worked better in developing countries than in industrialized nations. Early findings suggested that breast milk could make the vaccine less effective, but this was refuted by later studies, which were also confirmed by the World Health Organization.

The Internet took this tiny nugget of disproved data and ran with it, causing multiple fact-checkers and medical organizations to try to quash the rumor. This is what Snopes.com concluded:

“The CDC has issued no guidelines whatsoever suggesting that breastfeeding should be delayed, either temporarily or at length, for any reason related to vaccine efficacy. Not only does the CDC not recommend mothers stop breastfeeding, that agency actively encourages nursing based on AAP guidance. The claim the CDC ‘recommended that mothers stop breastfeeding in order to increase the efficacy of vaccines’ is a misleading one based on a 2010 study that simply observed the effects of breast milk on a single vaccine and neither made recommendations nor created guidelines about the cessation of breastfeeding in order to increase vaccine efficacy.”

Here are the facts on breastfeeding, according to the National Institutes for Health:

It is known that breastfeeding provides nutritionally balanced meals, some protection against common childhood infections, and better survival during the first year of life, including a lower risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Research also shows that the skin-to-skin contact of breastfeeding may have physical and emotional benefits to both the mother and the child.

Other studies suggest that breastfeeding may reduce the risk for certain allergic diseases, asthma, obesity, and Type-2 diabetes. It also may help improve an infant’s cognitive development.

The board-certified primary care physicians and specialists at The Medical Group of South Florida are cognizant of the latest medical research and advances in all areas of patient care. We understand how convincing some Internet information can sound, which is why we urge you to consult with us about any such concerns you may have.