Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Oh Dear Doctor Christian

Breastfeeding is wonderful, one of the most natural thing in the world, sadly it doesn't come naturally to everyone, many women who choose to breastfeed struggle, experience immense pain, feel terrible that they have to stop and some don't even begin because of all the horror stories they have heard or because of previous bad experiences.
My heart goes out to these women, there is not enough support for women who want to breastfeed their babies.
My own breastfeeding experiences and those of my friends caused me to want to help women who want to breastfeed but find it difficult, so I trained to become a breastfeeding helper. I am passionate about breastfeeding and it's benefits.  I am also passionate about women making their own choices, and perhaps more importantly informed choices.  So you can imagine my irritation when I read the latest misinformation that is circulating the magazine shelves of our country.

I am sure you have seen it trending, it came up on no less than four facebook groups that I am part of, Doctor Christian, the dishy Doctor of Embarrassing Bodies fame has made a right old boo boo when discussing breastfeeding with Closer Magazine. I know I shouldn't be surprised that a women's magazine is bashing breastfeeding, it isn't the first time and I am sure it won't be the last.

Last time it was grabbing readers attention by scaring them into thinking breastfeeding could kill their babies, now it's telling mothers that breast feeding is pointless beyond 6 months.

Doctor Christian tried to correct what was written saying via twitter/Closer magazine's website that he had been misquoted, but even his correcting himself was factually incorrect!

The attention grabbing subheading (above) was saying that after breastfeeding for 6 months there is no need to continue, in the Closer interview he says:

“Advice on breast feeding is always changing. The World Health Organisation recommends breast feeding for up to two years, while the NHS recommends breast feeding for the first six months.
(he says this as if the two are contradictory)
“Breast milk is beneficial to a baby's immune system for the first six months, but there is no harm in continuing to do it as long as the child has a healthy diet.
(suggesting that breastfeeding after 6 months is not beneficial to the immune system)
“If a child is being breast fed until eight, this may make them overly dependent on their mother. However if they are being breast-fed at four there is no harm in this.
“I support women who want to breastfeed and would never wish to discourage anyone from doing so.”

To begin with the World Health Organisation recommend breastfeeding for up to two years AND BEYOND.  It does not recommend to stop at two years.

Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants; it is also an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers. As a global public health recommendation, infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond . Exclusive breastfeeding from birth is possible except for a few medical conditions, and unrestricted exclusive breastfeeding results in ample milk production.”

The NHS recommends breastfeeding exclusively for 6 months and then supplementing with food after that. It does not recommend stopping breastfeeding after 6 months.  Babies cannot get all the nutrition they need from solid food and cows milk until they are a year old, until then babies have to have breast milk or infant formula to get all the nutrients they need. So if a woman is breastfeeding and happy to continue then why would she stop at 6 months?

Baby's immune systems continue to benefit from breast milk well beyond 6 months.
According the the Breastfeeding Network website:

Breastfeeding continues to be important for children’s nutrition, development and care after the first 6 months of life. Breastfeeding at current levels is considered to be able to contribute on average at least:-
  • 75% of the energy requirements for children 6–8 months
  • 50% for 9-11 months
  • 40% at 12–24 months
(When breastfeeding is well established and supported it can contribute an even larger percent to energy and nutrient requirements.)
Breastmilk is also a major provider of protein, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and protective factors. 
In terms of the psychological effect of extended breastfeeding, I am not aware of any studies that show it causes damage and can only assume that this is Doctor Christian's own opinion and is not based on facts.
So I am really not sure what Doctor Christian was thinking putting his name to factually incorrect information.   He must be quite cross at Closer magazine. I am extremely saddened and disappointed that this incorrect information has been put across as factual; misleading women across the country.  Women have a hard enough time establishing breastfeeding, some women take months till they are really comfortable, so to be told that there is no need after 6 months is such a kick in the teeth and really undermines their efforts. I mean I haven't continued to breastfeed my son for nearly two years because there is "no need"!  I really hope that women who have struggled and succeeded with breastfeeding do not take this article seriously or feel like their efforts have been in vain, and that any women thinking about carrying on breastfeeding after 6 months but aren't sure if it is worth it, do research the benefits before making a decision. Women should be empowered not undermined.

  • How long should a mother breastfeed? (La Leche League International)
  • What are the benefits of breastfeeding my toddler? (La Leche League International)
  • Toddler Breastfeeding - Why on Earth? (Jack Newman’s Site)
  • A Natural Age of Weaning (Katherine Dettwyler Anthropologist)
  • How long should I nurse my baby? (Katherine Dettwyler Anthropologist)
  • Extended Breastfeeding Fact Sheet (
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