Mammary madness: Breastfeeding research setting mums up for failure?
Dr. Harriet Etheredge
Posted on May 10, 2019
In December 2018 I had a baby. This has opened-up a whole new world of blog topics. It hasn’t freed up a lot of time, though. As I write, it’s 4.20am. I made myself a cup of tea, but I clean forgot to buy milk, so I’ve added some baby formula. It tastes like genuine tea with milk. Who knew? Turns out nothing is sacred when you’re a parent. Here I am, a 34 year-old-professional, having baby formula in my tea.
At the time my daughter was delivered I had high hopes for myself as a mum. One of these was that I was going to achieve that supposed “gold-standard” that eludes so many. Six months of exclusive breastfeeding. Nature intervened, however, when our little sproglet became hypoglycaemic in hospital and needed a top-up of formula. As it turns out this was a saving grace for me, exclusive breastfeeding was out the window from the time she was 2 days old.
Nevertheless, over the past five months I’ve found myself faced with many supposedly simple decisions about what, and how, to best feed my child. I have sought advice from experts and, like many a new, inexperienced mom, I have turned to Dr Google. Why not? I have a PhD, feeding my child can’t be more complicated than that? Well surprise! It’s way more complicated, and it feels like every decision one makes has a downside.
Yes, most research tells us that the gold standard is six months of exclusive breastfeeding, which will make our children cleverer, thinner and protect them from disease. However new findings in paediatric immunology – which is becoming its own medical subspecialty as childhood food allergies skyrocket – have resulted in the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) completely reversing its previous advice to parents. Now, rather than avoiding allergens, it is recommended that allergens such as cows-milk protein, eggs and peanuts should be introduced between 17 and 22 weeks in order to set our kids up with the best chance of being allergy-free. How on earth are we to exclusively breastfeed for 24 weeks and yet introduce allergens at 17 weeks? (Granted, the new AAP guidelines do somewhat begrudgingly admit that exclusive breastfeeding has little utility beyond 16 weeks).
And if you can come to terms with that, what happens if you want to breastfeed and have some semblance of a life? Go for a run occasionally, go back to work (as many mums do at about 4 months) or, God Forbid, go out for some cocktails with your mammy-friends? Well that’s easy – I’ll just express some milk so baby has something to drink! But, wait for it, Oh no! Recent research shows that expressed milk can increase baby’s chance of catching pseudomonas and other bugs, as well as an increased risk of asthma. What to do, what to do…..
Research on breastfeeding is often contradictory. Like most scientific papers, conclusions are usually presented as ‘suggestions’ and tempered with ‘limitations’ – often without providing any definitive advice. This is fine from a science perspective. It isn’t very helpful to a new mum who feels completely overwhelmed by decisions – each one of which seems momentous at the time. My singular experience is that in the end you have to do what works for you because you really can’t win. No matter what it is, you will possibly be criticised for your decision, and have moments of overwhelming guilt about the consequences. But baby will be fine in the end. Won’t it? …
PS. My daughter has a very loving and committed father, however he is not anatomically equipped to breastfeed her, which is why this post is all about me.
The views published in this blog are entirely my own (informed) opinions. They are open to debate, discussion and disagreement.
 Meedya S, Fahy K, Kable A. Factors that positively influence breastfeeding duration to 6 months: a literature review. Women and birth. 2010 Dec 1;23(4):135-45.
 Greer FR, Sicherer SH, Burks AW. The Effects of Early Nutritional Interventions on the Development of Atopic Disease in Infants and Children: The Role of Maternal Dietary Restriction, Breastfeeding, Hydrolyzed Formulas, and Timing of Introduction of Allergenic Complementary Foods. Pediatrics. 2019 Apr 1;143(4):e20190281.
 Moossavi S, Sepehri S, Robertson B, Bode L, Goruk S, Field CJ, Lix LM, de Souza RJ, Becker AB, Mandhane PJ, Turvey SE. Composition and Variation of the Human Milk Microbiota Are Influenced by Maternal and Early-Life Factors. Cell host & microbe. 2019 Feb 13;25(2):324-35.
Tagged: allergies, breast pump, exclusive breastfeeding, expressing, motherhood