FAMILY MATTERS: Trust your instincts, not the warring experts

New breastfeeding advice has left Sheffield mums baffled. So what really is best for baby?

It is never easy being a new mum. You just want to do what's best for your baby but when contradictory advice flows thick and fast it is hard to know where to turn.

Every parent knows the mantra 'breast is best' but what happens when the supposed experts start to disagree?

They confuse every mum who is already over tired and lacking in confidence, then those offering the advice disappear back into their offices and leave families to pick up the pieces.

The official guidance from Government and UNICEF is that mums should breastfeed for the first six months if at all possible.

They say giving solids too early can increase the risk of infection and disease.

But in the last few days a new row has been sparked by an article published in the British Medical Journal which questions whether exclusive breastfeeding for six months is appropriate.

It argues that delaying introducing solid food may increase the risk of iron deficiency anaemia, coeliac disease and food allergies.

There is also a claim that introducing new tastes early on may increase acceptance of green leafy vegetables and so encourage healthy eating later in life.

The official advice hasn't changed but the latest controversy has certainly confused plenty of Sheffield parents.

Sophie Macfadyen has helped thousands of mums and babies over the last 15 years as the National Childbirth Trust's breastfeeding co-ordinator.

As a friendly face in the midst of tonnes of research, she has this advice for mums: "Take a deep breath and just wait because this has happened with all sorts of things.

"You get things blown out of all proportion and parenting doesn't work with knee-jerk reactions."

Sheffield is mixed when it comes to breastfeeding and part of Sophie's role is to make sure women who want to breastfeed get the help they need.

"In some areas of the city virtually everybody starts breastfeeding but in other areas they don't," she said.

"There are pockets of Sheffield where the middle generation are working and the grandparents are doing the childcare so they bottlefeed.

"Mums often don't get enough support once they have started but we have got a huge peer support roll-out in Sheffield which we have been doing for the last year and the feedback is very positive.

"We are just getting to the stage where we are seeing results and it is all going in the right direction.

"We desperately need to keep these services going so we can show that it works."

There are lots of reasons why women are put off breastfeeding and the figures show it depends heavily on your age and class as well as where you live.

But women are much more likely to give it a go and stick with it if they are given just a little bit of support.

The aim of the project is for every Sheffield mum to be offered help within 48 hours of giving birth.

Sophie is pleased that breastfeeding generally has a more positive profile than with previous generations and says it makes economic sense.

"A lot of money has been put into encouraging mums to breastfeed in recent years. People do realise that if you could get all babies breastfed for six months there would be fewer health issues and the country would save money.

"As a society we need to support people to breastfeed."

UNICEF has also launched a robust defence of their guidance.

A spokesman said: "This article is not based on new evidence but rather a re-analysis of older evidence, much of which is the same as that used as the basis for weaning recommendations from the World Health Organization and the UK's Departments of Health.

"When considering this analysis it should be noted that three of the four authors have declared an association with the baby feeding industry. Less breastfeeding and earlier introduction of solid food will lead to greater profit for this industry.

"There is a wealth of robust evidence that breastfeeding saves lives and protects both the short and long term health of mothers and babies in industrialised countries.

"Breastfeeding reduces the risk of infections, as well as the risk of diabetes and obesity in children and breast cancer in mothers.

"It is also associated with improved parenting capability among low-income women, and with reduced incidence of neglect and postnatal depression, thereby improving the life chances of children."

And a final piece of advice from Sophie for stressed out Sheffield mums trying hard to hold it together and desperate to do what is best for their baby: "Parents should listen to what makes sense for them. The things that come through in the press are not always from experts.

"Mums should pay attention to their own sensible instincts rather than joining with the latest fad. Each parent is the expert on their own baby."

For breastfeeding advice and support contact the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 1000212.

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