Dr Miriam Stoppard undermines breastfeeding

Dr Miriam Stoppard wrote a piece about breastfeeding in the Mirror this week.

 http://www.mirror.co.uk/lifestyle/health/when-should-you-stop-breast-feeding-1259599

Much of it was bollocks. If you want to know why, read on. My comments follow each paragraph of her text (which is in italics).

There’s no keener fan of ­breast-feeding than me. I always advocate breast milk as the perfect food for babies from birth to weaning.

That’s right, must get the breast-is-best message in first so that nobody can tell you off.[1]

For years, we’ve followed the World Health Organization guideline that where possible babies should be breast-fed for six months.

No, they say babies should be exclusively breastfed for six months and it should continue until two years and beyond.[2]

Recently, the Institute of Child Health put forward the case for mixed feeding from four months.

A few researchers from the ICH wrote a paper. It’s not their official position.[3] And mixed feeding means mixing formula and breast, by the way, not introducing solids.[4]

I’m with them. Many mothers wean their babies around four months anyway and in the Third World it’s often an economic necessity.

Red herring. Some mothers start solids early, so everyone else should? Let’s stick with the WHO recommendations. And anyway, I thought we were talking about breastfeeding, which continues after the introduction of solids.

Plus breast milk often doesn’t deliver the iron needed for a six-month baby.

Simply nonsense. A six-month-old baby that didn’t have its cord cut early still has all the iron stores it needs, and breastmilk continues to provide plenty of iron as the stores decrease.[5] And again, it’s a red herring. This baby is now having some solid food.

But if you’re a mum dedicated to ­breast-feeding, when should you stop?

Dedicated to breastfeeding? Makes it sound like a lifestyle choice.

I’ve spoken to breast-feeding consultants who say breast-feed for as long as possible, quoting the nourishment and protection of breast milk throughout toddlerhood.

Yes, precisely[6], so why isn’t that your point of view?

For me, the line was crossed when I saw a cover of Time magazine showing a mother standing breast-feeding her four-year-old child who was standing on a chair to reach his mother’s nipple.

He was 3. It was a deliberately controversial picture and tagline, and the model wasn’t very happy that they used it.[7] Move on.

This mother belongs to the school of extreme parenting where mums breast-feed into late childhood, let their child sleep with them and, as babies, carry them everywhere in a sling.

Extreme? Oh sorry for my extreme parenting, I’ll leave my baby to scream in her cot or pram instead.[8] I’m off to go base-jumping now.

The mother on the Time cover believes in letting her child decide when breast-feeding should stop.

Yup.

I’ve never heard anything so irresponsible.

Bet you have. How about when you invited health journalists to an all-expenses-paid jolly at formula manufacturers Nestlé, similar to the previous ones where they invited midwives?[9] That’s pretty irresponsible.

No young child should be asked to shoulder the burden of such a decision.

But it’s ok if he asks for a ham sandwich and a hug? It’s just food and a cuddle, get over it. And he doesn’t make some massive decision, he just stops asking for it one day.[10] Like one day teddy gets left in the toy box.

If you subscribe to that, which other decisions would you let your child make? To go to nursery or not? To get up in the morning or stay in bed? It’s clearly wrong.

I’m allowed to vote, what other decisions would the government let me make? To launch a Trident missile?

This doesn’t bother advocates of extreme parenting.

Again with the lifestyle choice language. We don’t advocate it. We just do it.

They know that it would be an unusual child who would reject the breast their mother is offering them.

Well, duh. So why shouldn’t they have it?

No. This is about mothers who desire to keep their child dependent on them.

A child IS dependent on his mother. That’s why he lives at home and isn’t allowed to touch the cooker. And by the way, you think I desire to night feed? I’d love it if that didn’t happen any more.

A parent should be encouraging a child to be independent.

Er, didn’t you just say they shouldn’t be making their own decisions? But actually, children who have their basic needs for security and closeness met are more independent as they get older.[11]

Extreme parents say it protects their child from “the pain of weaning”.

Who says that? Where’s your source? Come on, you’ve put quotation marks in, tell us who said it.

Far from it being upsetting, most babies offered a mixed diet are happy about it.

Yes, babies are very happy to be offered food. What’s that got to do with breastfeeding? And yes, I imagine that once weaning is finished the child is generally fine with that, no matter how it happened. But why does that mean everyone has to do it at the same time?

My guide is the appearance of teeth.

Quite right. The appearance of adult teeth, that is. It is believed that children are then no longer physiologically able to breastfeed.[12] Ever seen a breastfeeding teenager? Didn’t think so.

Nature arranges for them to erupt when a baby needs food that has to be chewed.

Have you ever tried chewing with an incisor? And are you supposed to immediately stop breastfeeding when the first tooth appears?[13] Some babies are born with teeth.[14] And what do you feed them with once they have their teeth if they’re not fully weaned to solids?

That should be when breast-feeding is gently suspended.

Should be? Thanks for telling me how to parent, Miriam, I don’t know what I’d do without you. (By the way, suspended breastfeeding, is that more of the extreme stuff? Hanging from the ceiling, perhaps.)

So at the end of that, Miriam Stoppard has:

  • undermined WHO recommendations not to start solids until 6m and to breastfeed as long as possible;
  • said that breastmilk doesn’t have enough iron in it (which is untrue);
  • labelled anyone who breastfeeds a toddler (which has known benefits) as extreme; and
  • said that babies with teeth shouldn’t be breastfed even though the current advice is that breastmilk or formula should be an infant’s main food until 1.

All in less than 400 words. Nice one.


[1] … for breaching the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/code_english.pdf (and a good synopsis of it here http://www.breastfeedingonline.com/who.shtml)

[3] http://www.ucl.ac.uk/ich/ich-news/Article12 Also, she doesn’t explain that the Institute for Child Health is not, as it may sound, a government body, but a research arm of University College London. It does not provide advice or have official positions on subjects.

[8] If you’re interested in the reality of what she labels extreme parenting, these are useful links:

benefits of full-term breastfeeding – http://kellymom.com/ages/older-infant/ebf-benefits/

safety and benefits of co-sleeping – http://kellymom.com/parenting/nighttime/familybed/      http://www.bmj.com/content/339/bmj.b3666.full

benefits of babywearing – http://www.thebabywearer.com/lists/BWInfo.htm

[12] I can’t find a source for this, probably because it’s so rare to keep breastfeeding until then. However, there appears to be a general consensus among full-term breastfeeders that adult teeth change the shape of the jaw and make it difficult to suckle.

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