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"the scientific evidence for breastfeeding's health benefits is weak"

(31 Posts)
FirstTimeForEverything Wed 13-Feb-13 08:07:07

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

HoleyGhost Wed 13-Feb-13 08:20:29

Interesting. I think the combination of pressure to breastfeed with a lack of postnatal support is extremely damaging.

We are told it is best, but few of us manage exclusive breastfeeding, and new mothers feel that they are failing their babies.

It means women are not allowed a chance to rest after major abdominal surgery and/or a traumatic birth.

The reasons highlighted by Prof Wolf are v. important and apply not just to breastfeeding.

NC78 Wed 13-Feb-13 08:21:01

Is she a scientist?

FirstTimeForEverything Wed 13-Feb-13 08:27:56

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

HoleyGhost Wed 13-Feb-13 08:38:49

Zoe Williams' article is linked and also worth a read

mercibucket Wed 13-Feb-13 08:45:36

Interesting article by zoe williams
I was prepared to be amazed that gastro bugs are not reduced by bf, but I see that evidence still stands
I'm glad I put myself in the camp of those committed to a healthier lifestyle (arf) - all those years of bf are obviously counter balancing the wine and chocs to overall good effect

Woodifer Wed 13-Feb-13 08:50:00

I remember the Zoe Williams article - or maybe an even earlier one than that - do we all seek to justify what we personally did? I was lucky enough to breastfeed (ebf to 6 months) - its simple and lovely when it goes right.

But I read up a lot of the WHO stuff and bought into the sealed gut theory, and the scientifically based reasoning behind their recommendations (this meant I expressed and stressed about being back in time in case DD had to have - (gasp!) formula before I got back! After 6 months when she started eating - I didn't worry so much about formula cos other stuff was already going in.

Breastfeeding would be optimal for most babies and mothers in most cases - but this doesn't include everyone.

KateSMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 13-Feb-13 08:51:12

Morning everyone,

We're going to move this to the Breastfeeding topic in just a mo, at the request of the OP.

HoleyGhost Wed 13-Feb-13 08:55:38

It is also harder to establish breastfeeding when the baby - or the mother - is not in perfect health.

That might be due to a traumatic birth, a complicated pregnancy, or as yet undiagnosed SN.

Separating those issues out from the stats is very difficult.

EauRouge Wed 13-Feb-13 09:42:03

She's not a medical professor then.

I don't think she is wrong to debate, it never does to just accept things and not question them, but I wouldn't agree that the evidence for breastfeeding's health benefits is 'weak' at all confused

I wonder what her angle on this is. I completely agree that there's too much pressure on mothers from all sides (not just BF/FF, but every aspect of parenting). The way that breastfeeding is viewed in this country and the way it is encouraged by the NHS is all wrong- there needs to be more support and more acceptance of the mother's feelings. Not enough time is spent discussing feeding methods and the emotions of the mother surrounding them. Simply telling mothers what the benefits are without really talking about it does not help.

All this 'breast is best' stuff is all well and good but once your baby is born there is almost no support from the NHS or from society in general. No wonder so many women struggle and end up feeling guilty. That is what needs to change- not the information on breastfeeding, which is sound as far as I'm concerned.

HoleyGhost Wed 13-Feb-13 10:11:44

Wolf is a social scientist. It is a shame that more interdisciplinary work has not been done on this subject.

Understanding the social context is key to identifying confounding variables.

EauRouge Wed 13-Feb-13 10:55:45

Yes, it would be helpful to have more research from other areas. I think there should be more emphasis on informed choice.

Spiritedwolf Wed 13-Feb-13 11:07:36

The article seems pretty confused tbh, we shouldn't encourage women to breastfeed because they don't currently and because women who work can express?

I think basically she's describing the current situation but I don't think it supports the conclusion that breastfeeding is overrated. Just because randomised trials would be unethical, does not mean there is no worth in the only ethical studies that can be done. It wouldn't be ethical to have a 'scientific' experiment where randomised groups were told they couldn't cuddle or kiss their babies, but that doesn't mean that cuddling and kissing babies is not beneficial and that it shouldn't be done.

This can be added to the large pile of opinion pieces about breastfeeding, that are under the mistaken impression that mothers who breastfeed for six months and over are martyrs, over enthusiastic or cautious mothers. This stems from the myth that breastfeeding is hard, overly onerous etc. This is particuarly clear in the attitude against expressing at work.

The myth that breastfeeding is hard/onerous etc stems from so many people stopping doing it so early. Yes, some people find it hard in the beginning, it is a new skill to learn, and a new baby does need to be fed often. But once mother and baby have got the hang of it, it is easier than bottle feeding. No preparation, no cleaning up etc. If my only experience of breastfeeding was the first bit, the hard bit, I'd think those who carry on are superhuman/ridiculous massocists too, but it does get easier, for most women it does, honest.

It also values the economic value of a woman in the workplace, more than her value to her infant as carer, and source of nutrition. Presumably because the baby has no money to pay its mother for meeting its needs. Its an old argument. If some women are forced to give up breastfeeding or otherwise caring for their extremely young infant in order to work due to economic necessity, the problem is not the promotion of breastfeeding making the women feel guilty, it is poverty and high living costs forcing them back to work before they and their infant are ready to be parted.

It is not an onerous economic burden for a woman to be allowed breaks to express for her baby. And its a hell of a lot healthier for the nation than taking a cigarette break as used to be so common.

I do agree that women should be given more support to bf if that is their choice, because many women give up ebf before they'd wish to because of problems bfing. Most bfing problems have solutions that would allow either ebf or mix feeding and it is a shame that women are not given the support to do so.

dreamingbohemian Wed 13-Feb-13 11:19:11

Very interesting article.

I do like the questioning of the 'BF is free' line, because I agree that this holds an inherent assumption that a woman's time is not valuable, and that there are no opportunity costs (lost sleep, problems at work, etc.)

I also think it's important to have social scientists and sociologists involved in the debates, because feeding doesn't happen in a vacuum. As long as the emphasis is on medical research then we will be stuck at 'breast is best' with not much insight into the very real impact of policies on women's lives.

Spiritedwolf Wed 13-Feb-13 11:43:31

It comes down to no one except baby (and usually mum) profiting from, and therefore valuing breastfeeding. dreaming of course a woman's time and labour is valuable, I agree, but it is not wasted on feeding and caring for an infant just because that infant cannot pay her for her time and milk.

Of course we need to look at the socioecnomic reasons why mothers don't breastfeed, but I think we should look at removing those barriers, not throw up our hands and say 'well breastfeeding isn't important then, we'll stop asking mums to consider doing it'.

It doesn't surprise me that this is coming from America where maternity rights are so poor. But money and time would be better spent on improving those rights than complaining about breastfeeding.

It is terrible that some women are forced back to work by economic necessity or aren't given the practical support they need to breastfeed. These need to be addressed as barriers to breastfeeding, and it is totally understandable that women facing these barriers 'choose' to not breastfeed, they shouldn't be made to feel guilty for giving them the best alternative - formula. But that doesn't mean breastfeeding isn't best/normal and shouldn't be encouraged. Its just finding more effective ways to do that than the slogan 'breast is best'.

dreamingbohemian Wed 13-Feb-13 12:09:17

I agree that the time and labour is not wasted, and we should focus on removing barriers.... But I do think this aspect of feeding does not get enough attention, and that helps account for the steep dropoff in BF.

What I find strange is that it's okay to list the pros and cons of most aspects of parenting, but with BF the focus is so relentlessly positive. As a social scientist myself smile I think we should address all the positives and negatives of choosing to BF, and not neglect the (potential) negatives because they're inconvenient for long-term aims.

HoleyGhost Wed 13-Feb-13 12:37:42

The assumption seems to be that women who choose not to breastfeed are doing the wrong thing, rather than making a decision on what is best for their family circumstances.

Choosing formula to avoid sleep deprivation, recurrring mastitis and thrush, poor infant weight gain etc is a perfectly reasonable decision. It is also reasonable if the mother is simply not enjoying breastfeeding. I think that honesty about the pros and cons would make the topic less fraught, and would leave fewer new mothers feeling like failures for not being able to establish breastfeeding. The risks of choosing formula are tiny. There are also risks with persisting with breastfeeding when it is not going well.

EauRouge Wed 13-Feb-13 12:42:57

But time is also used making up formula and sterilising etc, so I don't know why that is being considered an issue. Of course, other people can help with formula feeding but in reality it is almost always the mother that does it.

It will help to give mothers the facts about the pros and cons of both (the main cons of breastfeeding being lack of support and accurate information, which really needs addressing) and then ask them how they feel about the choice and what they think.

Mastitis and thrush are not inevitabilities of breastfeeding, neither is sleep deprivation (there is a study that showed this, I will find it later), poor infant weight gain is also not an inevitability. So these are not usually counted as cons because they are anecdotal.

HoleyGhost Wed 13-Feb-13 12:45:47

They are not anecdotal they are real risks of choosing to breastfeed.

The tendency to trivialise these common issues is part of the problem.

EauRouge Wed 13-Feb-13 12:54:38

But if there was proper breastfeeding support available then this kind of thing would happen very rarely. Of course women need to be told how to get help if things do go wrong but I would say they are 'real risks'.

showtunesgirl Wed 13-Feb-13 12:57:23

BF mother of 14 month old here.

Sleep depravation - no more than anyone else. In fact DD is now a pretty good sleeper.
Mastitis - never had it.
Thrush - not had it.
Poor infant weight gain - DD has always tracked the 50 percentile line bang on.

And in some ways, even if you take away the debate about which is healthier, I would still prob BF unless someone could prove to me that it was actively damaging my DD because the convenience has been brilliant.

dreamingbohemian Wed 13-Feb-13 12:58:49

I very much agree Holey

And I have to differ with you Eau on the issue of time. I had to FF my DS and even as a newborn, this took no more than an hour a day total, for all feeds, which I split equally with DH. (It takes 5 minutes a day to do the bottles and the actual feeds went very quickly.) Contrasted with my friends who were BF and spending hours and hours a day, having to do all the night wakings, etc. (at least in the early days)

So of course time can be an issue -- not for everyone, but for some, yes. And it's not unreasonable for women to look at the opportunity costs of devoting that much time to BF and deciding that it's not the best choice for them.

HoleyGhost Wed 13-Feb-13 12:59:10

They are common issues - more support might make them less common, but they would still be risks of choosing to breastfeed.

Most formula fed babies don't get gastroenteritis but it is still a risk asscociated with formula feeding. Better support might also reduce the incidence.

dreamingbohemian Wed 13-Feb-13 13:03:49

showtunes -- that's what I mean though, it's been brilliant for you and so it was a great decision for you.

All I'm saying is that there are potential problems that can occur, that can make BF a less ideal choice for some. And I think we should be realistic about what those potential problems are and, as Holey says, not minimise them.

My one friend, for example, had to do 3-hour cluster feeds every night for weeks. She managed because she was on ML and it was her only child, but if she had had to work and had other children she probably would not have persevered, and I think that's a totally reasonable decision. There's a whole context to feeding that I think gets overlooked when we only focus on the health benefits.

ubik Wed 13-Feb-13 13:06:40

i did it cos it's free


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