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Benefits of breastfeeding 'being oversold by the NHS'

(68 Posts)
sleepsforwimps Mon 20-Jul-09 08:17:04

As someone who was about to stop breastfeeding but carrying on because of the Swine Flu situation I find this article mighty confusing

'there is little evidence that mothers milk protects babies against illness or allergies, says a leading experts.'

So who am I to believe... 'Michael Kramer' or the 'NHS'?

HecatesTwopenceworth Mon 20-Jul-09 08:18:31

eh? I thought milk was full of antibodies etc and was good protection?

fishie Mon 20-Jul-09 08:26:37

either prof kramer has done another study or the times has massively misunderstood what he was talking about, since according to my reading his whole ramdomised thing is about promotion of bf and the results this brings.

sleepsforwimps Mon 20-Jul-09 08:34:15

I think it is a horribly negative article, I hope they have misunderstood his studies because I feel quite deflated after reading it.

TheHeathenOfSuburbia Mon 20-Jul-09 08:34:40

Well, he's basically saying it protects against some diseases but not others.

I think we could probably have guessed that ourselves...

fishie Mon 20-Jul-09 08:36:23

looky here

TheHeathenOfSuburbia Mon 20-Jul-09 08:37:37

But yes, the first line of the article is a misrepresentation of what he's said. Makes it sound like BF doesn't protect against any illnesses.
Then says later, "he said that some claims were well founded, such as the protective effect on ear infections and gastrointestinal illnesses."

tiktok Mon 20-Jul-09 08:40:12

This is very odd indeed. The evidence on allergies has never really been promoted as strong argument against formula feeding, though it may well be in a list of 'benefits of breastfeeding' because a lot of the evidence points that way.

Obesity? Well, it's always going to be difficult to isolate the infant feeding effect from other factors, but there is plenty of evidence that breastfeeding does have a role to play, and studies differ only in how large a role. There are no studies that suggest breastfeeding increases obesity, and plenty of physiological reasons to explain why that is the case.

The other, rarer, conditions he lists are not really major public health concerns because they affect very few people, though of course childhood cancers are devastating for the individuals involved. Type 1 diabetes evidence is well-established, though, so I'd have to look again at that and see what his objections are.

The one aspect on which he does say the evidence is sound is in gastro-enteritis and other infections (antibodies, as you say, Hecate). Why would we not want support, and a public health push, to reduce uncomfortable, distressing and avoidable incidences of these?

I hope he publishes somewhere, rather than just announcing his views to the press.

tiktok Mon 20-Jul-09 08:50:48

Aha....I see from following fishie's link that Kramer is commenting on Joan Wolf's book.

And his opinion - that the strongest evidence is that breastfeeding affects the incidence of breast cancer in the mother, and the incidence of diarrhoea, ear infections, chest infections in the baby, and intelligence levels in the baby, and that other evidence for other conditions is weaker - is fairly mainstream.

Joan Wolf is the far more contentious - that none of this matters and that western governments should not bother promoting breastfeeding.

KingRolo Mon 20-Jul-09 08:51:05

Very odd.

As far as I know, the NHS aren't in the business of 'selling' breastfeeding so the use of the word 'oversold' is odd too. If anything is 'oversold' in terms of health claims it is infant formula.

Another article suggesting that the most natural, cheap, environmentally friendly and healthy food for a baby isn't actually that great.

DarrellRivers Mon 20-Jul-09 08:54:52


TheProvincialLady Mon 20-Jul-09 08:55:15

PMSL that the NHS oversells breastfeeding. Tell that to the 100,000 of us on MN who have been given duff advice and had formula pushed on us by MWs, HVs and Paeds.

KingRolo Mon 20-Jul-09 09:02:09

Exactly TheProvincialLady.

A friend of mine was told just last week to introduce 'top-ups' for her 10lb 3 week old because he's a 'big baby' and she probably can't make enough milk. hmm

WomanInTheMoon Mon 20-Jul-09 09:15:12

I hardly post on mn but I have just read that article in The Times and it has really upset/annoyed me. This weekend, with the similar article in The Guardian and all the confusing news about pregnant woman having to avoid The Public, it makes me feel as though I cannot do any right if I did by whats in the news.

One of the decisions that helped me decide to breastfeed was to help prevent PND which I had with my first child (who I bottle fed). Consequently the bond has been created much quicker this time round. That for me is reason enough.

Nothing in that article makes you think breastfeeding is a good thing. Why would someone tell you breastfeeding is pointless? It makes me feel undermined as it was difficult for me to get the latch right etc but I feel I have achieved something special with my baby that I may not have with a bottle.

There is nothing positive there at all apart from the beautiful image of the cover of T2 of a baby being breastfed.

sleepsforwimps Mon 20-Jul-09 09:21:33

Thanks for the link Fishie, crikey at Joan Wolf's views shock

KingRolo Oh i'd love to meet the person that gave your friend that advice, as evidence against her claim i'd hand her my breasfed 24lb 12 month old to hold that was 9lb 13oz at birth. grin

tiktok Mon 20-Jul-09 09:26:07

WomanintheMoon : Even if you read the Joan Wolf quotes, there is nothing at all that says 'breastfeeding is pointless'. Nothing.

Joan Wolf's position - and I have yet to read anything more than what's in the paper - is that western public health campaigns, and the rhetoric, are not 'justified'.

Breastfeeding (when it's going well) is a convenient, physiological, clean and virtually-free-of-charge way of feeding the next generation. When it goes well, mothers and babies enjoy the closeness, the responsiveness and the sensuous pleasure of it (these last can be replicated by bottle feeding, but not wholly).

What's not to like?

KingRolo Mon 20-Jul-09 09:26:54

I know what you mean WomanInTheMoon. It just makes me wonder why they keep printing stuff like this.

Is there some deep seated guilt about not breastfeeding / stopping breastfeeding early going on? I don't mean that in a nasty way but one wonders why there is such a focus on breastfeeding being difficult or not much cop health wise when there are far more important issues they could be writing about.

Why don't they devopte some column inches to raising awareness of the shocking number of women who still die in childbirth around the world or how breastfeeding is for 4/5ths of the world's population the safest food for a baby by a very long measure.

AitchTwoOh Mon 20-Jul-09 09:35:09

i do agree though that the NHS should stop trying to flog the health benefits and just offer women who WANT to do it all the support they need to succeed. at the moment nearly 80% start but who knows how many of those felt pressured in hospital and had no real intention? i'd rather 50% did it for a year or more and began the long process of re-normalisation than there was all this pissing around at the edges with posters.

Fairynufff Mon 20-Jul-09 09:36:31

I'm sorry...but did we not really know all this deep down anyway?

You only have to open your eyes and look around at all the families and people you know - some of who will have been breastfed, some of who will have been bottlefed, and see that there is not one group who stands out as being sickly and ill. Some of the healthiest people I know were Cow&Gate babies straight from the womb. I never, ever really took on board all this 'breast is best' bullshit.

I found that most women do what suits them anyway and they justify it to themselves (and others) accordingly...

LeninGrad Mon 20-Jul-09 09:43:34

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

WomanInTheMoon Mon 20-Jul-09 09:45:12

tiktok - What I mean is that it could be read as breastfeeding is a pointless exercise. They aren't exactly selling it (I suppose thats their point though)
I love breastfeeding, but I was imagining if you were deciding whether or not to bf once your baby is born and had read that article you might well think, Ah well, I suppose if there aren't any of those benefits and thats what could have swung it for me maybe I'll bottle feed.

While I don't care how anyone feeds their own baby, to me it has been very important and I feel I go against the grain breastfeeding as where I live very few do, it is seldom you would find anyone bf-ing their baby in public for example and I find articles like this in The Times certainly don't help encourage.

KingRolo - Exactly! Rarely in these articles would you find solutions or offer help such as linking LLL, NCT, Kellymom too. I'm no journo but I imagine most written work starts with what is closest to home...

tiktok Mon 20-Jul-09 09:47:27

Fairynuff - I sort of see what you mean, in that most people don't get 'persuaded' by health arguments and tend to do what feels good/right/comfortable to them, and then justify it later

Which is why posters and leaflets listing benefits and so on are a bit pointless unless they are somehow a precursor to a policy of knowledgable help and skilled support of breastfeeding (and sadly, they ain't...).

But 'the evidence of our own eyes!' argument doesn't wash at all.

The research into excess infections in ff babies - very clear, non-contentious, well-established, properly controlled - throws light on something you would never see by looking around you or even talking to people in your own circle. It shows up in large studies which demonstrate the public health effect of ff, rather than the overt, visible effect (which is small, unless you link ff with obesity, 'cos there are, visibly, more fat kids than there used to be).

Many conditions linked with infant feeding are not visible or even associated with being 'sickly' - a kid with diabetes is not 'sickly' but looks and behaves the same way as any other kid. A kid who has not reached his full cognitive, intellectual or academic potential because of being formula fed is not 'stupid' or 'thick' but something like 4-9 IQ points less than he would otherwise be. That's perfectly livable with, unless you are talking about the far end of the spectrum, when a few points might make a difference.

tiktok Mon 20-Jul-09 09:52:46

WomanintheMoon - but it's not a pointless exercise, even if it makes hardly any difference to feeds your baby in a way you love, in a way he/she loves, and what could be less pointless than that?

I really doubt that arguments about health hold much sway with the pregnant mother deciding to do one or the other. As you suggest, seeing it done, and seeing it done enjoyably, is likely to be more effective, and more supportive, as an exercise in persuasion.

LeninGrad Mon 20-Jul-09 10:01:25

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

tiktok Mon 20-Jul-09 10:14:07

LeninGrad, obv I believe you I think this is less of a concern to mothers as a whole, though.

The allergy research is a bit flaky but it has been speculated that only truly exclusive breastfeeding for about six months brings on the protection, and getting a research study to show that is just about impossible.

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