Friday, January 14, 2011

What is really behind today's reports undermining breastfeeding?

When I see a report which undermines breastfeeding, like this one today saying that introducing solids to a baby earlier than the recommended 6 months,  I always look for the connection to the baby food industry. And I have never seen such a study where there is no connection.

The study today suggests a link between delaying solids until 6 months to iron deficiency and allergies.These are serious allegations to make, which are going to worry parents. Headlines like "Prolonged Breastfeeding may harm Babies' health" in today's Herald are quite inflammatory - and unnecessarily so, as the experts today haven't conducted any new research, they have just put their spin on studies which have already been carried out.

As Baby Milk Action points out, three out of the four of today's experts have connections to the baby food industry, one in particular having even appeared in defence of a formula company when they were being successfully prosecuted for illegal advertising.

Why now, though? Why are these people all of a sudden publishing their concerns about the Government's recommendations that mothers should exclusively breastfeed for 6 months? We now have a new Government which isn't keen on regulation. Could this be the first step in a campaign to persuade the Coalition to relax some of the restrictions around the marketing of infant formula, starting with the weaning age recommendation? If so, I hope that ministers will have none of it. I've written before about the huge body of evidence showing the benefits of breastfeeding and in particular the Dundee infant feeding study where Professor Stewart Forsyth stated that:
"Breastfed children from lower socio-economic groups had better outcomes than formula fed children from more affluent families"
If you're worried about when you should introduce solids to your baby, have a look at UNICEF's detailed response  which basically takes a coach and horses through the BMJ report's arguments in turn.

One of the most bizarre points made in the BMJ report was that if you didn't introduce solids early enough, then babies wouldn't get to like bitter tastes, such as found in green, leafy vegetables, leading to poor diet and obesity in the future. This is so ridiculous to me as to be almost funny. So our obesity problem is to do with breastfeeding, and not to do with the fact that over the past few decades a vast industry has built up around sugar and foods which have been refined and processed within an inch of their lives. You also have the fact that artificial baby milk always tastes the same whereas breastmilk changes in flavour depending on what the mother has been eating. And just as an aside, although it's not strictly relevant to this debate, artificial baby milk often has something called maltodextrin - it's a carbohydrate that's quite like sugar.

If you're worried by what you've read today in the press, have a look at some of the stuff I've linked to here to get the other side of the argument.  I've known a lot of babies in my time, and they have all sorts of preferences and habits where solids are concerned.  Some babies want a bit more than milk sooner rather than later, but I've also seen some totally reject solids completely for much longer than six months and they've been absolutely fine too. Most will look for solid food somewhere round about the middle of the first year and it kind of makes sense to introduce them when they're learning to sit up and taking an interest in what the rest of the family is eating. With all these rites of passage, I'd always say don't worry what anyone else's baby is doing, just look at all the arguments for yourself and make the decision that works for you. I was always relaxed about when Anna did things - I always presumed she'd get there with crawling and walking and sleeping through the night and eating solids (it was well over a year before she'd tolerate any food with lumps in it) in her own good time. There were times I did worry about some things, but it all worked out fine in the end.

1 comment:

cartside said...

well put. It's a very confusing report, there is no new evidence as you said, and it will backfire into even earlier weaning than 4 months.
I've blogged about it too, it just happens that my baby has just reached the 4 months point.
As to leafy green veg - my older daughter loves them and we never have them ourselves i.e. she wasn't even weaned on them. And as to iron - if they didn't cut the chord so quickly, babies wouldn't lose one third of their iron stores and the whole argument would be nil and void. But did the report suggest that later chord cutting is an effective solution? No. I wonder why.


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