The strangest thing happened on November 3rd 2012. I was breastfeeding my daughter when suddenly something changed. It was as if the milk realised that she was six months old and, like Lily Potter’s enchantment when Harry turned 17, it could no longer protect her. That blue glow she used to carry around with her disappeared. Her little baby immune system was vulnerable to any virus or bacterium going, and as I looked out of the window I could see them all trying to get in and infect her with their virusey fingers. E-coli! MRSA! The common cold! They all wanted a piece of my little girl and, thanks to breast milk suddenly losing its magical powers after six months, she got them all. Oh the mess! Why did no-one tell me that this would happen? Why did no-one say, like TV’s Dr Christian did in “Closer” magazine, that “Breast milk boosts a baby’s immune system, but only for the first six months. After that it has no effect.”?
Why did no-one say that? Maybe because it’s not right. Maybe because even “Closer” has been forced to clarify their position, posting a longer statement that this was part of. That’s why no-one told me. And that’s why Eva didn’t really lose all her immunity on the stroke of 26 weeks – it’s just not true.Not even the bit with the MRSA.
It’s not the first time that Dr Christian has caused upset among breastfeeding mothers. After all, it was his column that in 2010 proudly proclaimed “Breastfeeding can make your boobs sag – FACT!”, which the Press Commission defended, saying that the word “can” made it conjecture rather than fact, despite the word “fact” being in capital letters with an exclamation mark at the end. Well, that works in all sorts of ways – reading books can kill you (just ask my great-grandfather), drinking can cause trips to Southend (just ask Nathan) and having friends can cause you to become tied naked to a rugby post (just ask my brother). It doesn’t mean that one thing necessarily will lead to another, it’s just that it has happened somewhere in the world at some point. FACT!
He calls himself a breastfeeding advocate, and says that this response was taken out of context but they are his words and they are wrong. If he doesn’t want “Closer” to publish misleading lines like “After that it has no effect”, then he should take it up with the magazine. And as for the condescending next line about “as long as the child is having a healthy diet, there’s no harm in breastfeeding” – well, thanks. I feel validated now, even though you’re making it clear that breastfeeding has no value after a child starts on solids and we just do it more out of habit than anything else. He doesn’t mention the nutritional aspect of breastfeeding, but why should he? That wouldn’t be controversial at all. And controversy, as we know, sells.
So, is there any value in breastfeeding past six months? After all, doesn’t it just turn into water? Well, supporting that point of view, in the Gwean Corner we have Dr Chris, if I may call him that, a confused person on Yahoo! Answers and some random OB. In the Bloob Corner, we have the WHO, the NCT, the AAP and the NHS who all talk about time periods like “into the second year”, “two years and beyond” and “as long as you wish”. Which side would you pick in a fight? In the grand scheme of things, six months is still very young and they need the nutrients from milk that they don’t get from any kind of solids (no, not even purees…they’re mostly water).
What I’m conflicted about is who to be mad at here. After all, the magazine backed down and retracted its advice so they’re clearly sorry. But it’s not good enough, is it? Fact is, they printed it, Dr Christian put his face to it and someone sitting in a baby clinic with a 6-month-old will have read it and be scared into weaning so that they don’t get a “psychologically dependent” child with “behavioural problems”. There is nothing wrong with stopping breastfeeding at six months, six weeks, a year or any time as long as that’s the right decision for the mother and child. What is wrong is the media quoting an “expert” with the headline, again in capitals “AFTER SIX MONTHS THERE’S NO NEED”. I’ve ranted a lot about misinformation before, and it’s a sad old world we live in when magazines publish advice they know to be misleading for the sake of a headline. And yes, they knew it was – how else would they have been so ready with an apology? It’s all in the name of generating publicity for the magazine, which once again they’ve done but how many breastfeeding relationships have been truncated because of the good doctor’s advice? Now excuse me while I go and fight off the latest bunch of viruses who have turned up at the door looking for Eva….