NHS claims have been exaggerated, claims expert
NHS claims about the benefits of breastfeeding are oversold, according to a leading expert.
Michael Kramer, a professor of paediatrics who has advised the World Health Organisation and Unicef, said that much of the evidence used to persuade mothers to breastfeed was wrong or out of date. He said evidence that breastfeeding protects against obesity was flawed.
He told the Times: ‘The evidence it protects against allergies and asthma is also weak. And there is very little evidence that it reduces the risk of leukaemia, lymphoma, bowel disease, type 1 diabetes, heart disease and blood pressure.’
However, he said that some claims were well founded, such as the protective effect on ear infections and gastrointestinal illnesses. He said: ‘The formula milk industry jump on every piece of equivocal evidence. But the breastfeeding lobby have a way of ignoring the evidence. Both sides are not being very scientific.’
Joan Wolf, an academic who has spent five years researching the medical literature on breastfeeding, said that only the benefits on gastrointestinal illnesses had been conclusively proven. She said: ‘The evidence we have now is not compelling. I’m not sure there should be a public health campaign on infant feeding in the West.’
Clare Byam-Cook, a former midwife who has spent the past 20 years teaching thousands of women – including celebrities such as Kate Winslet – how to feed their babies said that breastfeeding was not the ‘be all and end all’. She said that while breast is best, women who are unable to breastfeed should not be made to feel like failures.
In England, 78 per cent of mothers attempt to breastfeed, but just 22 per cent continue for the recommended six months. The Department of Health said the recommendation that mothers should feed babies breast milk alone for at least six months is based on WHO guidance.
A spokesman added: ‘The Government is fully committed to the promotion and support of breastfeeding, as it is the best form of nutrition providing all the nutrients a baby needs for the first six months of life.’