In January of this year, Mary Fewtrell & co published an opinion piece in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) questing the evidence behind the WHO’s recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months. This caused newspapers and online news sites to come out with headlines like:
Six months of breastmilk alone is too long and could harm babies, scientists now say — The Guardian
Too much breastfeeding ‘puts children off greens’ — The Independent
Weaning before six months ‘may help breastfed babies’ — BBC News
Parenting forums everywhere rapidly filled with threads, everything from “omg am I killing my baby by exclusive breastfeeding?!” to smug “I told you to start on purees at 8 weeks” from a generation of older parents. Suddenly people were telling all and sundry that the Government guidelines on weaning were changing and that mums should take note. A cursory glance at mumsnet just now and I count 2 references to the BBC article in one topic (posted on this weekend… not an old thread by any stretch of the imagination) to support early weaning.
The piece was heavily criticised by doctors, midwives and professors in the rapid response section of BMJ; by Baby Milk Action; by LLL GB (La Leche League GB); by lactivists and breastfeeding supporters everywhere. (There are some fantastic responses on the rapid response from people much smarter than me. Definitely worth a read.)
So why is it that, 6 months on, when an actual study featuring our controversial friend Fewtrell was published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (and elsewhere) confirming the adequacy of breast milk and exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months (emphasis my own):
Results of this prospective study reveal that when mothers are well supported and follow the World Health Organization recommendation on breastfeeding, milk intakes are high and increase over time, and there is adequate energy intake, normal infant growth, and no marked changes in breastfeeding practices. This new empirical evidence on adaptations during exclusive breastfeeding should help health professionals promote the initiation, duration, and exclusivity of breastfeeding.
…it gets nary a mention in the media? This is an actual study, using actual sciencey bits, and isn’t just the opinion of a baby-food industry puppets. And yet, no BBC telling us that in reality, breastfed babies are ok on just breast milk; no Guardian telling us that actually, 6 months of breastfeeding is just bloody fine.
Oh yes, that’s right, because telling mums they’re doing well (instead of admonishing them for yet another failure) wouldn’t boost sales, would it?