A few days ago, Miriam Stoppard wrote an awfully misleading piece on her opinion of when mothers should stop breastfeeding. Adele at Circus Queen wrote a wonderful, respectfully critical response to “Dr.” Stoppard’s brusque and scientifically incorrect opinion piece, and there are over 200 commenters on the piece itself, all disappointed in the Mirror’s gall in publishing such a ignorant and negligent “article”.
I was so appalled by the article, though, that I’d like to give my own critique, line by line, with references to support the scientifically and developmentally proven biological fact that breastfeeding is a multi-purpose instrument of mothering that deserves respect and celebration. Note that “Dr.” Stoppard gives no references to support her opinion on when a mother should stop breastfeeding, nor does she give any references to support her attack on attachment parenting, or even to substantiate her statements about iron insufficiency in breastmilk.
My issues with this article are not about mothers who wean their children before the natural age of weaning (which differs for every child). My issues with this article are not about women who formula feed their infants, for whatever reason. My issue with this article is the ignorance and hateful opinion perpetuated by publication in a popular online magazine, and the societal misunderstanding and mistreatment of breastfeeding that it feeds.
With no further ado, here is my response to Dr. Stoppard’s opinion piece on breastfeeding and when mothers should stop:
The Stoppard article text is in grey
My comments are in teal.
The footnotes in orange will lead you to reference material.
Dr. Stoppard Writes:
There’s no keener fan of breast-feeding than me. I always advocate breast milk as the perfect food for babies from birth to weaning.
“The minimum predicted age for a natural age of weaning in humans is 2.5 years, with a maximum of 7.0 years” 1
If Stoddard is a fan and advocate of breastfeeding “birth to weaning” then she should be familiar with Dr. Dettwyler’s work and the scientific findings that point to a biologically natural age of weaning between 2.5 and 7 years.
For years, we’ve followed the World Health Organization guideline that where possible babies should be breast-fed for six months.
The WHO actually supports breastfeeding for a MINIMUM of 6 months and additionally “for up to two years or MORE” 2
Recently, the Institute of Child Health put forward the case for mixed feeding from four months.
The Institute of Child Health recommends that “solids should NOT be introduced before 6 months (or before 26 weeks after [a baby] is born)” 3 I could not find an article on the Institute of Child Health webpage or on google in general that supports Dr. Stoddard’s claim that the ICH “put forward the case for mixed feeding from 4 months.” If anyone finds this information, please direct me to it!
Additionally, research has shown that delaying solids can give baby greater protection from illness, gives adequate time for a baby’s digestive system to mature, decreases the risk for food allergies, protects baby from iron-deficiency anemia, and helps protect baby from future obesity. For mothers, delayed solids can help space pregnancies naturally, and helps increase and maintain milk supply (which is a high-ranking reason why many moms stop breastfeeding before 6 months, or do not make their personal breastfeeding goals)4
I’m with them. Many mothers wean their babies around four months anyway and in the Third World it’s often an economic necessity.
I don’t even really know where to start with this line. She seems that she’s fine with women weaning their babies from breastmilk at four months, which is against every scientific and medical recommendation. Claiming to be a “breastfeeding advocate” dies for sure with this statement.
Her statement about third world countries is an interesting one. You can explore the action that UNICEF is taking to support mothers, babies, and breastfeeding in third-world countries and see that the documentation does not list formula feeding, mixed-feeding, or early solids as an “economic necessity.” Dr. Stoppard is actually countering her own argument here, anyway, because she’s pointing out that women in the third-world stop breastfeeding because of MONEY not because they want to or should.
Plus breast milk often doesn’t deliver the iron needed for a six-month baby.
Healthy, full term infants have enough iron in their bodies to last 6 months or more. “Healthy, full-term infants who are breastfed exclusively for periods of 6-9 months have been shown to maintain normal hemoglobin values and normal iron stores.” Preterm infants, those born with a low weight, or those born to a mother with badly or non-managed diabetes are at risk of having a lesser supply of iron, but breastfeeding itself does not cause iron-deficiency, and breast milk actually delivers iron more effectively (it is more readily bio-available to the infant’s digestive system) than iron in foods or formula.5
But if you’re a mum dedicated to breast-feeding, when should you stop?
I’ve spoken to breast-feeding consultants who say breast-feed for as long as possible, quoting the nourishment and protection of breast milk throughout toddlerhood.
For me, the line was crossed when I saw a cover of Time magazine showing a mother standing breast-feeding her four-year-old child who was standing on a chair to reach his mother’s nipple.
Oh, dear. The TIME article again. Let’s just all remember that the TIME cover photo was chosen by editors looking to sensationalize attachment parenting and breastfeeding children in order to make sales and, well, start the discussion and controversy that followed. Attachment Parents aren’t all that extreme. We simply choose to respect the needs of infants and children and not perpetuating our own desires by ignoring their developmental stages (i.e. sleeping through the night is a highly desired milestone for parents, but infants rarely ever sleep through the night because they are biologically designed to wake for breastfeeding, to meet their nutritional needs). The Atlantic has published an interesting article about the roots of AP.
Not all breastfed children breastfeed standing like the boy on the cover of TIME. Actually, the cover photo was “an out-take” from the shoot, one that Jamie (the mother pictured) explains was a photo taken while moving between positions. 6TIME got a more natural breastfeeding photo of the same mother and child during the photo shoot, but elected not to use it. Most likely because the standing photo was the most interesting and most stirring. Which leads us to Stoppard’s next ridiculous point.
This mother belongs to the school of extreme parenting where mums breast-feed into late childhood, let their child sleep with them and, as babies, carry them everywhere in a sling.
Actually, this “school of extreme parenting” doesn’t exist. Attachment Parenting is a philosophy of respectful and developmentally appropriate parenting that meets children’s biological and physiological needs for closeness, sustenance, nutrition, and emotional development. In attachment parenting and natural parenting, parents choose to form and nurture strong connections between themselves and their children 7
The mother on the Time cover believes in letting her child decide when breast-feeding should stop.
I’ve never heard anything so irresponsible.
Really? Because I have. Publishing an article based on opinion and untruths for all to see and be influenced by. . . that’s irresponsible. Not breastfeeding a child to the age of natural weaning. That’s actually a smart, thoughtful, natural and responsible decision (though it isn’t for everyone).
No young child should be asked to shoulder the burden of such a decision.
If you subscribe to that, which other decisions would you let your child make? To go to nursery or not? To get up in the morning or stay in bed? It’s clearly wrong.
Stoppard seems to think that attachment parenting is permissive parenting – which it’s not. Alternative Mama has a great post you can read about this subject 8
This doesn’t bother advocates of extreme parenting.
They know that it would be an unusual child who would reject the breast their mother is offering them.
This is just a silly statement, because most mothers of breastfed children breastfeed on demand – at the request of the child, not at the whim of the mother.
No. This is about mothers who desire to keep their child dependent on them.
Again, false. Actually, scientists and pediatricians have discovered the opposite: “[after] studying the long-term effects of long-term breastfeeding, the most secure (…) and happy children are those who have not been weaned before their time” 9
A parent should be encouraging a child to be independent.
See the previous statement about the studies that show breastfeeding children to be incredibly independent and socially happy and secure.
Extreme parents say it protects their child from “the pain of weaning”.
Far from it being upsetting, most babies offered a mixed diet are happy about it.
OK, now we are really starting to grasp at straws here. Like Adele wrote “My child likes cake. She’s happy about eating cake, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for her”.
Most babies offered coca cola are happy about it, too, but that doesn’t make it healthy or right.
My guide is the appearance of teeth.
Nature arranges for them to erupt when a baby needs food that has to be chewed.
Yes, but the development of teeth doesn’t make it impossible for a child to nurse. . . and nursing actually soothes the pain of growing teeth AND assists in dental and jaw development.
That should be when breast-feeding is gently suspended.
OK, so you think that when a baby gets teeth, a mom should wean her baby from the breast. Against all of the baby’s signals and nutritional, emotional, and biological needs. And if teeth were the magic variable in your equation of when mothers should stop breastfeeding, then why did you defend mixed feeding and attack the normal duration of breastfeeding?
Oh wait. . . I remember. Because we’re extreme parents that don’t care about the independence or well-being of our children. Right.
Seriously, by the end of Dr. Stoppard’s “article” . . . I was starting to think about how sad it was that she felt so compelled to write this piece to attack parents who nurture their children through attachment parenting and normal duration of breastfeeding. . . that I considered, for a second, not writing a reply, because I felt that replying to her would be unfair. I, a 25 year old mother, who hasn’t even earned her bachelors degree yet knows more off the top of my head about lactation, child development, and pure logic than a woman with a doctorate? Yikes.
And then I realized that that was exactly WHY I needed to write this.
It’s this type of inflammatory and ignorant writing that perpetuates the untruths and myths that stigmatize breastfeeding in our society. And for the future of our children, we have to keep re-educating to the scientifically and developmentally proven biological fact that breastfeeding is a multi-purpose instrument of mothering that deserves respect and celebration. . . and respectfully quieting and compassionately educating those who perpetuate and believe the false information and opinion out there.
How do you feel about the Stoppard article?
Are you an advocate for breastfeeding? How do you educate to the normalization of nursing?
- Dettwyler, Katherine, PhD. A Natural Age of Weaning. Prepared August 3, 1995. Edited February 10, 1997. http://www.kathydettwyler.org/detwean.html ↩
- WHO Fact File on Breastfeeding. Accessed at http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/breastfeeding/en/ by clicking the “Read More About Breastfeeding” link. ↩
- Institute of Child Health. Infant Feeding: First Stage Birth to 6 months. http://www.ucl.ac.uk/dph/IFPST%20PDF/Resources/Day%206%20-%20wave%204%20revised.pdf ↩
- Bonyata, Kelly, BS, IBCLC. Delaying Solids. http://kellymom.com/nutrition/starting-solids/delay-solids/ ↩
- Bonyata, Kelly, BS, IBCLC. Is Iron-Supplementation Necessary? http://kellymom.com/nutrition/vitamins/iron/ ↩
- You Asked. They Answered. Time’s AP Moms take your questions. http://kellymom.com/blog-post/time-apmoms-interview/ ↩
- What is API all about? http://www.attachmentparenting.org/principles/principles.php/ ↩
- Attachment Parenting: What It’s Not. http://www.alternative-mama.com/attachment-parenting-what-its-not/ ↩
- Breastfeeding Beyond a Year. http://www.lalecheleague.org/nb/nbsepoct07p196.html ↩