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.
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>