Mark Woods: Family Matters

If there’s a parenting issue more emotionally charged, guilt ridden and often downright nasty as the breast feeding debate I’d hate to witness it.

These last few days this most hardy perennial of all battles recommenced with howitzers of research and study findings raining down on anyone who dares thinks that breast isn’t best.

First Boston Children’s Hospital researchers found that breastfeeding for six months to a year led to stronger language skills in three year olds and higher verbal and non-verbal intelligence at seven.

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These breast is brain food findings sit on top of long established research also showing how breastfeeding could reduce the risk of everything from asthma, eczema, ear infections, gastroenteritis, cot death, diabetes and childhood leukaemia.

As if that wasn’t enough, we were also told earlier this week that it also benefits mothers too. Not content with helping to burn off pregnancy pounds, it has now been shown to significantly lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

Ok, ok, we will come out with our hands up and drop our sterilising machines to the floor. Breast is best.

And yet despite all this evidence and the Department of Health’s recommendation that exclusive breastfeeding for six months is the preferred way to nourish a newborn, an estimated 98 per cent of UK mothers fail to do so.

Queue the guilt, the tut tutting and the suggestion that the reason we are slipping down educational league tables is to be found within a heaped tablespoon of formula.

However, generalisations disregard the legions of new mothers who try their hearts to establish breastfeeding. As each hour passes with another poor latch, fears of newborn dehydration mount and panic sets in. Eventually a pippete is offered, then a tiny cup and then a bottle, desperation just to feed the baby anyway, anyhow winning out.

As the little one finally contentedly feeds a deep seated sense of failure and dereliction of duty sets in, a scar that is prevented from fully healing by every study, paper and article banging the breast is best drum.

Twitter - @mark_r_woods