Tuesday, 14 August 2007

A generation of overweight babies, and worried breastfeeding mums

A somewhat bombastic title you may say, but any of you who read regularly, or who know me, will know that one thing I feel very passionate about is quietly promoting all things breastfeeding. I am now considered an extended breastfeeding mother, since our son is more than a year old. I see putting in a year's worth of dairy duty as something to be very proud of.

Who, you might ask, do I have to thank for being able to continue this long (despite working etc): well certainly not the health professionals who 'visited' my son and I in his first six months.

But forget all that...what's the link to the title...???

Anyone who's been reading the news this week will have seen that finally, the government are making plans to trial, yes, only trial, a new set of child growth charts, brought out after scrupulous and sound multicountry research by the WHO.

These charts, surprise surprise, are based upon the growth patterns of healthy babies nourished by their mother's breasts exclusively at least until the middle of their first year. But hang on, why the excitement? you ask - surely that's not rocket science - to map children's growth against averages created from the growth of kids fed in the way nature intended?

Well actually it is.

For years, breastfeeding mothers have had to deal with guilt, anxiety, intrusive interference, and have even sometimes been frogmarched to a peadiatrician, or told to give up altogether because their babies were not growing 'according to the charts'. Charts, dear reader, based upon the growth of babies 20 years ago who were fed on formula milk which contains many more calories than breast milk.

But beyond anxiety for breastfeeding mums, it has now been revealed, in a number of broadsheets, that this staunch belief in growing babies per 'the charts' has possibility contributed to the burgeoning obesity problem facing today's kids. It's not often I quote The Daily Mail - in fact it pains me to do so, but here is an example of some of today's stories: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=475180&in_page_id=1770

I am sure I am not the only mother reading this news to be at once horrified, but also secretly rejoicing that we are now free of the fetters of the formula charts, and not only that, but, it is now recognised that our once 'underweight' babies, are actually our babies are actually healthy and natural.

My own experience with the dreaded charts

Your blogger had to deal with some real tosh from her 'health visitor'.

Having got through the first three weeks of the postnatal period, having dealt with retained placenta, a minor post partum haemorrhage, and a readmission to hospital, I had, amazingly, mastered breastfeeding and had very few problems with doing it happily. At a voluntary check up at the 'well baby clinic', I was then told that my son was extremely slow to put on weight, and was I, was I absolutely sure I was feeding him correctly? Did I not know that I couldn't go out, do anything, eat less than 6000 calories and drink 20 pints of water a day to make sure he gained weight? Was I definitely feeding him every 1.5 hours?
(yes, I exaggerate, in some places)

Amongst this barrage of useless advice, there was not even one mildly encouraging word, or 'well done' for breastfeeding, nor did she spend anything more than 2 seconds looking at my overtly well, plump, happy, baby - oh no, a piece of paper with a line on it was a much better gauge to my baby's wellbeing.

At the end of this productive meeting was I sent away with the number of a breastfeeding group, or LLL counsellor*? No. I was only sent away with a red book which told me 'any baby which drops 2 centiles in the first six months will be referred to a paediatrician' , and, a verbal warning 'you must go straight home and rest now, and we will want to see you next week to check his weight again' ringing in my ears.

Thus started a spiral of fear, self doubt, concern and confusion about what I had done to go so wrong. This led me to interpret every cry of my son as a cry for hunger, or was it even dehydration, I panicked, as I tried to make up a bottle of formula to urgently sate what I imagined must be weeks of hunger (which he refused)

I started making notes about urine output and poos, and the relaxed, demand feeding approach I'd adopted was swapped for a rigid one hourly feed rota. But then should I even continue this harmful, risky breastfeeding at all....might it not lead me to the Peadiatrician's door?

Fortunately my wonderful husband told me to forget packing in the breastfeeding, and to give the well baby clinics a miss from now on. I followed his advice, and here we are one year later.

One year on, we're still going strong. For sure, my son is by no means plump - he's tall and slim, but he's terribly bright, happy and well (touchwood).

So, rant over, but finally, I am so glad, that those bloody charts are on their way out.

*La Leche League - who offer fantastic breastfeeding advice at a grassroots level


Steve said...

Gosh. I had no idea that the process of bringing a baby into the world was so beset with growth chart fascists! Thank you for the tip-off. Karen and I will be well primed for when Thomas Arthur (fingers crossed) makes his debut appearance mid October!

greenfingers said...

be primed indeed - and avoid those health visitors if you can - I've yet to meet one who doesn't in some way make you feel completely inadequate!

Counting down the days to Thomas' arrival!

Steve said...

Hello there - you've been tagged for a blog challenge! See my blog for details!

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