Is breast really best?

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Breastfeeding is often cited as the most natural thing in the world, but sadly, the reality for many new mums is that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Despite NHS guidelines stating that most women, with the right support, should be able to breastfeed, half of all new mums give up within the first eight weeks. The guilt associated with this can blight the first few weeks and months of motherhood.

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The debate has been stirred up by the publication of a new book from the US entitled Is Breast Best?: Taking On The Breastfeeding Experts And The New High Stakes Of Motherhood. Author Joan Wolf has reviewed thousands of medical studies into the benefits of breastfeeding, and argues that the benefits of breast milk may have been overstated.

“I don’t claim that there are no differences between children who have been breast or bottle fed,” says Wolf. “Thousands of studies find the average breastfed baby is healthier than the average formula-fed baby.”

“What nobody has found is compelling evidence that breast feeding causes better health. The breastfeeding advantage could be due to a whole raft of other things that breastfeeding mothers are not doing, not to the breastmilk itself.”

A further study showed that two thirds of midwives interviewed did not discuss formula-feeding with new parents.

Dr Ellie Le, senior lecturer in social policy at the University of Kent would also like to see the NHS take a more open-minded line on the way women chose to feed their babies.

She says, “The NHS ideal is that new mums should breastfeed for the first six months – but 98 per cent don’t. By imposing unrealistic targets you’re creating a gold standard that is unattainable, unworkable and undesirable.”

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Do you think there’s too much pressure on mums to breastfeed? Add your comment below, or join the debate in our forum. For more advice and support on feeding your baby, by breast or bottle, visit our feeding and weaning pages.

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