Ah, Dr Miriam Stoppard on breastfeeding, you make me laugh
I actually laughed out loud when I read this piece of creative writing by Dr Miriam Stoppard yesterday. I call it creative writing because it certainly wasn’t an exercise grounded in scientific fact. Anyone using the title “Dr” to qualify their statements needs to feel the full weight of their responsibility to their audience.
Most of what she’s written doesn’t deserve a response. OK, actually all of it is. I am tempted to mention that some babies are born with teeth and that they’re called milk teeth for a reason. So why should that be a signal to wean? Better judgement tells me not to bother to mention that if babies are dependent on lab-concocted formula to get the iron they need then something is uniquely flawed in the biology of the human race.
I also don’t know why I feel I should say it but, being from the “Third World”, I can’t see why weaning at four months would be an “economic necessity”. The only reason I can think of is that formula marketing has so powerfully shaped the culture that daycare facilities would rather mix a bottle than defrost expressed breast milk.
A line like “There’s no keener fan of breast-feeding than me” in this blatantly anti-breastfeeding piece of propaganda should have discomfited even her.
No, what interested me was that Dr Miriam Stoppard thinks child-led weaning from the breast is crossing a line. In fact she’s “never heard of anything so irresponsible”. This got me for a number of reasons.
For one thing, why is our culture so uncomfortable with things being child-led? Discipline disregards children’s feelings, education is handed from above, independence is rushed from the moment we’re born. It’s a disturbing pattern in which the most vulnerable among us are treated as though their experience of the way they’re raised is irrelevant.
Her rant against extreme parents who breastfeed for too long (and I fall into this category by bed sharing, babywearing and continuing to breastfeed beyond a year) is also bizarre in its focus on feelings as if that’s all breastfeeding is about.
She says that mixed fed children are happy about it. Maybe, but why should feelings be the most important factor in infant nutrition? My daughter loves cake. You might even say it makes her happy. Her feelings about it don’t change its ingredients or their effects on her body.
And anyway, if we’re saying that combination feeding is fine because babies are happy about it then doesn’t that indicate that we’re being led by their choice which was apparently such a bad thing a few lines ago?
The mind boggles that people held in such high esteem by parents looking for guidance think nothing of spewing this kind of nonsense. Worse still, newspapers choose to print it. If breast milk is really so unnecessary, then why do scientists work so hard at making formula like it?