Saturday, 15 January 2011

New media hype about breast feeding exclusively for 6 months.

As a baby led weaner and one that exclusively breastfed both my daughters for 6 months I feel that I must comment on this new information in the media.

Firstly it must be pointed out that this study is not about breast feeding and it states almost immediately in the study that the evidence about breast feeding basically speaks for itself, but it is about weaning and when to wean.
Nor does it actively promote bottle feeding or jar feeding in babies.  It simply discusses certain issues, albeit in a slightly biased way!
When you read the study bear in mind that 3 of the 4 authors are associated with baby food companies.
And also bear in mind that researchers can argue their points by using previous research to back up what they believe and not using research that doesn’t back it up.  My many years at university certainly taught me that!
Plus this study is a review of previous data and not based on new data.  So - same data, different views.
I’ll break down my findings on the study and then bullet point what I believe is important (again, my results will obviously be biased!)
I’ll tackle this first seeing as the media seems to be going mad over it.
There are certain studies that suggest if food is introduced before 3 to 4 months then there is an increased risk of allergy.  But our guidelines advise against introducing any foods before 3 to 4 months unless in exceptional circumstances or under medical guidance.
Another study suggests coeliac disease is increased if gluten is introduced after 6 months but fell if gluten is introduced after 4 months - BUT ALONGSIDE BREAST FEEDING.  No-where in the study does it say to stop breast feeding.
An American study suggests that wheat allergy (not coeliac) may be caused by introducing wheat after 6 months.  This study involved 1612 children and their findings were related to 4 children with wheat allergies who were introduced to wheat after 6 months.  What about the remaining children with no wheat allergies who were introduced to wheat after 6 months?
This study suggests delaying the introduction of solids may reduce the window of opportunity for new tastes.  I have serious doubts with this.  Breastfed babies get to taste the foods that their mothers eat in the breast milk and this is much more varied than formula fed babies (but the milk source isn’t the issue).  The study is concerned with delaying the start of weaning.
If you are doing baby led weaning then basically forget this.  The traditional method of weaning means food is pureed, given in single tastes at first i.e. pureed carrot or pureed apple, until the child is old enough to chew solids.  If you’re a blw then they are introduced to a vast array of tastes very early on, so much more than a traditionally weaned baby or jar weaned baby.
What this study also suggests is that weaning early may be important for accepting certain foods such as ‘green leafy veg’ and if a child doesn’t accept ‘green leafy veg’ then this can lead to obesity.
WHAT?  Is an educated parent really going to stop giving their child ‘green leafy veg’ or healthy foods just because it doesn’t like it?  My parents don't like curries and we never had them as children but they're my favourite meals - how does that work then???

Breastfeeding and baby led weaning helps to reduce obesity.  Breastfed babies stop when they’ve had enough and we have no way of knowing how much they’ve had.  They listen to their bodies (as we should too as adults).  Baby led weaned babies stop when they’re full (and generally show they’re full by throwing the food all over you!).
The study reports two different views of weaning ages and weight issues.  It reports one study suggested later introduction of complimentary feeding (I like this term) protects against overweight in adulthood.  Another study showed babies exclusively breastfed for 6 months had a higher bmi than babies exclusively breastfed for 3 months but these were only measured when the babies were aged 1 and not in adulthood.
This has been the bane of my life!  As a vegetarian I am constantly telling people where I can get my iron sources from and how I compensate for not getting easily absorbed iron levels in meat.
And now I have to battle it with having vegetarian breastfed children.
I found the following information on the NHS library and it makes very interesting reading.
Basically breastmilk has a relatively low iron content but the iron is bound inside the lactoferrin molecule, which makes it easier for the infant to absorb.  Infant formula contains 5-6 times as much iron as breastmilk.  This is present as “free iron” (i.e. not bound with another compound) and is therefore harder to absorb and it also supports growth of iron-seeking bacteria, thus increasing the risk of gut infection in the infant.
Therefore, in spite of the apparently low levels of iron in breastmilk, exclusively breastfed babies do get enough iron, and they are protected against iron-deficiency anaemia until at least six months of age, and often longer.
I had a constant battle with a doctor over my first daughter’s iron levels. In the end she sent her for blood tests and her iron levels came back absolutely normal.  That shut her up!
So basically this is what the study says
  • Introducing a child to certain foods before 4 months and after 6 months MAY increase certain allergies but it does not at any point recommend a mother to stop breast feeding. (Phew Anya was 5 months and approx 25 days when I started weaning her. Just got in there.)
  • Breastfed babies may not like ‘green leafy veg’ and may in turn get fat.  Er...that does not warrant a response!
  • Breastfed babies might not get enough iron.  Breastmilk contains all the iron a baby needs and if hospitals practised delayed cord cutting at birth a baby would have increased iron supplies too.

My main worries with this new study and the way it is being reported in the media is that people will falsely assume breast feeding causes allergies.  That’s not the case. They are saying delayed weaning may cause allergies.  But if you don’t delay weaning and feed from 4 months then you’ll have to puree the food which goes against baby led weaning.  And unless you’re pureeing all your own food you’ll probably buy jars - and don’t forget, 3 out of the 4 authors are associated with baby food companies.
Sounds like someone needs funding for their university!

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