Baby Led Weaning

Growing healthy babies with healthy appetites

'Breast not Best'? The Stuff I Know About.

Well here goes, this is the stuff I know about with regards to this extraordinary news story about ‘breastfeeding not being bestfeeding‘. Snooooooort. I work in the media and have a gazillion friends in academia, and viewed from this perspective this story is rather fascinating.

1. Newspapers are having a tough time at the moment. Like, super-tough. It’s all these big-mouthed bloggers spouting off for free, they’re killing the industry, the bastards. ;-D

Soooo, you have a print media that is making people redundant left, right and centre and is utterly desperate for a headline.

2. With all of these lay-offs, there is unfortunately a good chance that yer old-fashioned highly-qualified Science Correspondent is gone, replaced by a pleasant enough daftie who has the numbers of a few favourite boffins in their mobile phone, does most of their journalistic work by ringaround and gets most of their stories from press releases.

3. Universities are having a tough time at the moment. Like, super-tough. It’s all these budget cuts, they’re killing our institutes.

Sooooo, you have academics whose jobs (mortgages, families and yes, goddammit, their passion for their chosen field) utterly rely on getting funding from somewhere, anywhere… this is awkward because it lays them open to claims that their conclusions are polluted by their backers. But what to do?

4. Also, ethically pristine or otherwise, they know that the bigger stink they cause more press attention they get, the better placed their employer, the university, is to attract further monies. The uni Press Officer knows this too.

SO.

Does anyone think that point 1 might have influenced newspapers to make a story about some academics saying ‘hmm you know maybe we should look into this 6 month thing again?’ into a BREAST NOT BEST feeding frenzy? Or that factor 2 might render the journalists incapable of producing copy that Ben Goldacre couldn’t tear apart with his two pinkie fingers?

More to the point, does anyone think that factors 1 and 2,  3 and 4 might have influenced the writers of this small, speculative review about the best age to introduce solids into a babies diet to instead title it:  “Six months of exclusive breast feeding: how good is the evidence?” What with breastfeeding being the loaded gun to the head of most of your newspaper-reading classes nowadays?

Certainly one of the people who wrote the paper said on BBC Radio today “We’re not naive, we knew this would set the cat among the pigeons.” Ya think? That’ll be music to the UCL press officer’s ears. And yet the final paras of their BMJ piece only say what we already know.

“At one extreme, it has been suggested that there is insufficient scientific evidence for any lower age for weaning and that “infants should be weaned on demand, which is what most infants and their parents actually do in practice.” It can be argued that, from a biological perspective, the point when breast milk ceases to be an adequate sole source of nutrition would not be expected to be fixed, but to vary according to the infant’s size, activity, growth rate, and sex, and the quality and volume of the breast milk supply. Signalling of hunger by the infant is probably an evolved mechanism that individualises timing of weaning for a mother-infant pair.” Sounds like BLW to me.

It goes on. “However, others would adopt a more cautious approach, based on data suggesting that the introduction of solid foods before 3 to 4 months may be associated with increased fatness and wheeze later in childhood, with an increased risk of allergy, and with higher rates of coeliac disease and type 1 diabetes in infants at risk.

“Recently, after a detailed review commissioned by the European Commission, the European Food Safety Authority’s panel on dietetic products, nutrition, and allergies concluded that for infants across the EU, complementary foods may be introduced safely between four to six months, and six months of exclusive breast feeding may not always provide sufficient nutrition for optimal growth and development.” (That last line is a bit woolly, don’t you think? Surely what someone needs to do is look at whether the kids who are reaching out for food earlier than 6 months are the same ones who need a bit more than breast milk? If so, no problemo.)

Regarding the media coverage, it’s All Very Silly. The allergy stuff is hooey, as the report says that only 1% of Brits BF exclusively anyway, the bitter tastes stuff is hooey as BM changes flavour while formula doesn’t and anyway WE KNOW it’s rot because we feed our children spinach (at least until they get a bit older and decide it’s the devil incarnate in vegetable form, as they are perfectly entitled to do. But then I am nearly forty and not particularly fussed for bitter food either.)

All these academics are talking about is the time to introduce other foods, whatever the newspapers and the press officers are saying, and if they reckon that it’s something that someone might need to take another peek at, who am I to quibble?

And if things do change, it might have some bearing on Baby Led Weaning, which would be great, thanks. For my thoughts on this (lord, what an ego) do please press that hyperlink. <points>

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21 Responses to “'Breast not Best'? The Stuff I Know About.”

  1. bimbambaloney says:

    Very well said. Now if only we could get people to stop listening to “experts” and start listening to their instincts and their children instead.

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lenin Grad, Kate Williams. Kate Williams said: Hey! Someone has thought something about this breastfeeding thing that you should read EVEN IF you don't have babbles. http://ow.ly/3EvyE [...]

  3. Kath says:

    I couldn’t agree more.

    Kath :o)

  4. Aitch says:

    thanks all. i keep on thinking of More Stuff to get cross about but if i make that post any longer it will break through my computer, so best not…

  5. Jess says:

    Thanks for this Aitch.
    I was chatting to a friend of a 4month old yesterday and she’s all ready to give up bf in favour of (bleurgh) baby rice since seeing the headlines. I did discuss BLW, unfortunately she looked petrified. Ho hum.
    Very interesting perspective with regards to redundancies and cut backs, must add to the List of things to thank coalition gov for…

  6. Ellielle says:

    It’s a good point that you make about the babies that lunge for food probably being the ones for whom milk alone isn’t enough. I’ve always assumed that had Oscar (exclusively breastfed until the grand age of 19 months) needed food earlier, he would have shown interest in it, rather than looking at it as if it had fallen from an alien planet. Equally, had any of my children made a grab for food at 5 months and happily gummed on it, I wouldn’t have stopped them. Why do ‘experts’ always make out that nutrition and diet are rocket science?
    The other thing that the report doesn’t say is whether ‘traditional’ baby food (i.e. jars of puree) do anything to compensate for that lack of nutrition. If you feed your baby cardboard powder (sorry – that should of course say ‘baby rice’) it does have added vitamins and iron. But does that mean babies have evolved to be dependent on baby rice?
    Although having said that, the report itself was fairly banal. It’s the media response that’s been shocking.

  7. Thanks Aitch for sharing the link to my blog :D It’s had a great number of hits and would be great to keep sharing and let a few more confused mums know the news is not new!

    • Aitch says:

      armadillo i just posted it on MN again and vix on the biggest fb blw page just sent it to ALL of her users, near enough 5000. it’s getting around. if you feel like mentioning my more ‘media’ response that would also be great.

  8. Thell says:

    Hi Aitch -
    I am really grateful you’ve provided a bit more clarity on the situation! I knew it must all be arse. But mostly, like you, I am really annoyed on behalf of first time parents who will be left panicking about the right thing to do. I was a fairly thoughtful-earth-mother of a first timer, but I still could not escape the constant dread that I might be doing everything utterly wrong.
    Thank God I am expecting my second at the moment, and not in that boat any longer.

    • Aitch says:

      the news reporting is arse, for sure, and the armadillo seems to suggest that the paper itself is on shaky ground, but even if it weren’t, i am all for continued scientific research and if one day it is demonstrated that anything i have done with my kids was harmful etc i will just have to live with that. in fact, i have genuinely promised myself that i will not be one of those snorting grandmothers when the time comes. i’ll be encouraging my grandkids to take their blue pills or whatever is recommended by then… ;-D

  9. Thank you for this. Have shared with my group. The most astute piece of writing I’ve read in several days ;)

  10. Louise Gray says:

    I haven’t read the above yet, but I just wanted to say that the article actually mentions BLW, with a quote saying that baby probably knows best when it comes to weaning. For us, we started giving our son food just after 5 months, when he started asking for a closer look at what we had! He was allowed to feel it and taste it if he wanted, and we just followed his lead. I had confidence in his instincts, which I thi is really the essence of BLW. The article itself is qutie interesting, and as a lot of valid questions (although also many contradcitions), however the media coverage has been completely irresponsible and if they put just one mother off breatfeeding they deserve to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

    • Aitch says:

      do you mean the BMJ article, Louise? If so, I agree with you, as you will see. Although funnily enough as a quite rubbish breastfeeder who was using formula by six months I would argue that it is fairly irresponsible of the UCL bods to raise this issue without looking at formula at all. After all, they are only asking on behalf of 1% of the parenting population, and they did acknowledge on the radio that they ‘weren’t naive, they knew it would set the cat among the pigeons’.
      But yes, anything that cogently and with the backing of decent research encourages parents to be more confident in responding to their children’s needs is a good thing, in my opinion.

  11. Aitch says:

    Great! looking forward to reading (and sharing) your part 2.

  12. Claire says:

    Brilliant as ever Aitch!

    Being a fan of BLW and thinking the science makes perfect sense, I thought straight away something was up with this. I can’t see how they will ever prove something is better than breastfeeding for a baby. Our species has survived for a long time, not to mention every other mammal in the world until the 20th century on just breastmilk and BLW.

    My children took part in a study this week, doing some simple tests to be used in a baseline for autism. In the dept corridor was pages from several studies pinned on notice boards. Most of them about breastfeeding and (although she doesn’t use the phrase) BLW. I’m going to try and look HV up because it was was interesting and nice to see. HV was stuff that just made sense.

    • Aitch says:

      cheers, m’dear! it would be great to get hold of that HV stuff, ping us it if you do. i’ve just sent you an email as of course I KNOW WHO YOU ARE… ;-D

    • Aitch says:

      oh and on that note, could you do the FB thing and the Twitter thing and spread as many ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’ etc as you can. i feel like a bit of a diddy with all these people on the forum and about 12 people on fb, har har.

  13. Anna says:

    As a mother of 3 children I’ve read my fair share (and probably more, being rather neurotic first time round) of nutritional advice for babies and children. Unfortunately for my sense of proportion, it was only when I read in the same newspaper, 2 pages apart, 2 articles at complete odds with each other that I gave up worrying and took to common sense. One article was about dentists saying giving a toddler a small piece of cheese at the end of every meal was a good thing to help keep their teeth clean. The other was nutritionists saying that we should be keeping salt intake in children to a minimum, so limiting foods such as cheese as much as possible. Confused much?! obviously this was aimed at slightly older children, but the principle seems the same. The kind of parents who need nutritional advice are actually the kind who won’t be interested in reading it. The ones who do read it are the ones who are concerned and careful with their children’s diet and so probably don’t need any advice in the first place. I say read the advice, take what works for you and your family and then stop worrying!

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