Benefits of breastfeeding
Madam, – Prof Sven Carlsen’s Norwegian study (“Breast milk has few benefits, study finds”, Health Supplement, January 12th) needs to be placed in context.
This study researched the hormone levels of 180 pregnant women known to be at risk of giving birth to a low birth-weight baby.
The study team found an association between higher levels of male hormones in pregnancy and the ability to breastfeed after birth.
However, the claims made in relation to these findings do not account for the large differences in breastfeeding rates between countries, with some, including Norway, having 99 per cent of new mothers successfully breastfeeding.
From this finding, the research team also extrapolated that high levels of testosterone before birth are also responsible for the differences in health outcomes between breast- and bottle-fed babies.
However, this claim does not account for the significantly better health outcomes found for babies who are exclusively, as opposed to partially, breastfed, and for babies who are breastfed for longer durations.
The body of high-quality evidence showing the benefits of breastfeeding is very large indeed, and cannot be so easily dismissed by this small study that postulates a lot and delivers nothing to counter current breastfeeding recommendations. – Yours, etc,
Madam, – The report that breast milk has few benefits is alarmingly misleading and irresponsible. The last-ditch attempt at the end of the article to represent the complete story – by reporting that the findings have been rejected by leading authorities – does little to ease the harm caused by the misinformation in the article.
The controversial nature of the research has already necessitated official statements from the National Health Service in the United Kingdom and other bodies, proclaiming the results as unfounded.
Due to the fact breastfeeding was forgotten for more than two generations, many breastfeeding women in Ireland are already subjected to a battery of myths from well-meaning but misguided family and friends.
In a country where breastfeeding rates are among the lowest in the world and the practice is largely misunderstood, the national media would do well to take responsibility to report highly controversial research like this with closer scrutiny. – Yours, etc,