Monday, 21 May 2012

So Breastfeeding is Harmful Now

I've been following with mild interest the whole debate about the Time cover (for those who don't know, it features a very tall 3 year old standing on a stool and breastfeeding, both mum and toddler look straight into the camera and apparently this pose has tickled the nation because, let's face it, we don't do breastfeeding beyond 6 months, do we now, and above all we don't take pictures of it because it's just gross, isn't it?)

I was actually not particularly bothered or interested; just amused by the furore which in itself speaks volumes of course.

But what tickled my funny bone was a throwaway comment about the "attachment parenting crowd" in the Daily Mail. Not that I take the Daily Mail particularly seriously, but if a medical Dr a) claims that breastfeeding a child beyond 12 months is potentially harmful and b) uses a label to dismiss and patronise people, I can't let it go uncommented.

So, Attachment Parenting. I've always had an issue with the term, simply because it creates two types of parenting approaches - and the attachment parenting one seems to be the unusual one, the hippy, earth mama type of parenting, that is even from the onset weird and ever so slightly incompatible with our modern world.

The problem with this is that secure attachment is vital for every.single.child. Secure attachment develops in the first year. If it doesn't, the child will have serious difficulties in later life, this includes low self esteem, mental health issues, anger issues, will have a higher risk of addictions, a higher risk of neglectful parenting and a higher risk of being involved in antisocial behaviour and crime. Children lacking secure attachment in the first year cost our society, but they're also suffering from it big time. And setting the balance right later is costly and very difficult, sometimes even impossible, to achieve.

The bottom line is that we should all have a massive interest in ensuring we have securely attached children. It's in the interest of the child, and society as a whole.

Attachment parenting is therefore not an unusual leftwing approach to parenting but should really be mainstream to ensure secure attachment happens in the first year of life. And that's based on research and evidence, not on opinion.

Now, you don't need to breastfeed to have a securely attached child. It arguably makes it a tad easier but you can have a perfectly attached child and formula feed. But responsive care, not leaving to cry, and yes, not crying it out or controlled crying is part of it. It doesn't mean that controlled crying WILL harm a child, just that it may and does harm many children. So I wouldn't touch it as a matter of principle. Still, health visitors regularly recommend crying it out or controlled crying to encourage a baby to sleep through the night and every time I hear it I feel like shouting, and handing out some hard fact research how it can damage the newborn brain and how were really and truly don't want to do it because we can't turn back the clock once the damage is done.

Like not letting a child cry herself to sleep, breastfeeding beyond a year is seen as odd, when really it's the biological norm. I honestly don't understand why mums are so consistently pushed towards early weaning. My own GP told me to stop breastfeeding when Snowflake was just 10 months. She stood up and lectured me as if I was a stupid child needing a lesson. I let her and just left without a word. The look on the face of another mum when I explained that a sleep over wasn't in the cards for us at 20 months old still feeds rather a lot at night that spoke volumes of how that was a state of affairs that was totally beyond her ken. The constant questions at work why I don't want to go on training or meetings that involve overnight stays in some part of the UK, the feeling of being a broken record by saying that I don't think I should wean before age 2 for the convenience of my work if my job can be done without overnight stays.

The statement that breastfeeding beyond 12 months can be harmful really got me though. It's of course factually wrong. What is right is that not breastfeeding a 1 year old increases risks of various illnesses, just as not breastfeeding increases the risk of anything from cot death to obesity in later life. So the opposite is true. But we never talk about this do we?  I supplemented with formula from when Cubling was 12 weeks. I could not find any information on why that would be harmful, and I was sure that as long as I continued to breastfeed it was just as good. It's only now that I know it wasn't and I'm rather angry that this information was not available to me in spite of having read far and wide about breastfeeding. I'm also angry that the feeding issues I had with her never got addressed although I visited a clinic weekly.

I am all for choice. Women aren't stupid, and it's up to anyone to make their own choices. But misinformation doesn't lead to informed choices. And stigmatising breastfeeders and/or those who won't let their babies cry to sleep as "attachment parenting crowd" will once again out us as the "others", make us a laughing stock of parents, when actually we do what is the biological norm and what has the best developmental and health outcomes. How many mums will have stopped breastfeeding early because of the social and cultural pressure to do so? How often have I had to justify myself for feeding beyond a year, or hear dismissive comments or see "the eye roll"? How often have I been criticised for not teaching my child healthy sleeping habits (when in fact waking during the night is proven to be healthier than sleeping through)?

It's a mad world. Oh, and don't call me an attachment parent. I'm just a mum (who is still learning a lot about how to be a better parent than she is because I may not leave my child to cry but I'm not a perfect parent).

PS: I've left out any reference to co-sleeping. There is a pattern in that co-sleeping is vilified as a cot death risk when on closer inspection, it actually reduces the risk of cot death if practised safely. Another topic where parents are told they are harming their child when in fact they are not. I'd also recommend reading The Analytical Armadillo's take on the Daily Mail article which quotes some research evidence which I was too lazy to quote.


Kitschy Coo said...

Well said, I agree :)

the mommy psychologist said...

As a child psychologist and a mom, one of the things that is so misleading about attachment parenting is the name. It is only called attachment parenting because of the theory it was based upon. It is not called this because it is the only form of parenting which allows parents to develop a secure attachment relationship with their children. There are numerous ways to develop a secure attachment relationship with our kids. I explore more of this myth here for anyone who is interested:

cartside said...

@mommy psychologist I totally agree, which is why people get away with labelling anyone they want to out with the term. Actually, you can also breastfeed for 5 years and not be an attachment parent or indeed not have a good attachment with your child.

Anonymous said...

LOL and the Daily Mail today had an article on how cry-it-out is bad! At least no sides have been taken!
I always thought that DM was a humor paper. Am I wrong? I have only been in the UK 3 years, but surely no one takes them seriously? ;)

Rainbow Prams said...

There is always someone out there ready to criticise and put down what people have done for years! Like the MMR scare as a prime example! What a hooha that was! Parents should be able to bring up their children the way they see fit and to bond in that 1st year is critical! Hear hear, great post! xx

Only Best For Baby said...

Great post. Your honesty is so refreshing. I know how it feels when work raise their eyebrows at you for not staying overnight somewhere, when the more important matter is that your baby still needs you.



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