Exclusive breastfeeding till six months now bad, not good

Oh, wait? Did we say it was good? What’s that? Mandatory? Did we make you feel horribly guilty and tell you that you were ruining your child’s life if you didn’t exclusively breastfeed for six months? Oops. Sorry about that. Turns out to be kind of the opposite. New mothers: you MUST give babies solids at four months.

Come on, folks, how about a bit of epistemic humility in discussing these issues? Nah, that would involve complexity and we all know mothers’ brains can’t cope with that. Must keep messages simple and dogmatic.

31 thoughts on “Exclusive breastfeeding till six months now bad, not good

  1. …preferably some sort of symbol representing a generic pregnant women performing the offending act in question, with a big red line through it. It works for wine labelling!

  2. Fucking hell, this is an especially egregious example of backtracking.

    Perhaps FP should start promoting the term ‘epistemic fucking modesty’?

  3. Ooh, nice one Mr Jender! I feel a new campaign coming on…

    (I can’t find the original reference for that beautiful phrase, sadly!)

  4. Sigh. When will they learn to use phrases that respect parents’ ability to independently assess, like “mothers should consider these factors in determining whether X is right for their babies” instead of “mothers should do X”? And, as any parent knows, every mother and every baby is different, so verbiage encouraging parents and pediatricians to take the physiology and inclinations of each baby into account might be helpful too.

    I also have to wonder whether these researchers have any idea of the complexity of iron absorption in infants when they resort to scare tactics like suggesting that babies who are exclusively breastfed for 6 months “have a greater chance of iron deficiency anaemia, known to be linked to irreversible adverse mental, motor or psychosocial outcomes.” Breastmilk *does* contain iron; the amount depends, not surprisingly, on the mother’s nutrition and physiology, and on the age of the baby. It also contains vitamin C, which is essential for iron absorption, and lactoferrin, which inhibits the growth of iron-dependent bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, and thereby inhibits the growth of certain organisms such as coliforms and yeast that require iron and can interfere with absorption. (*This* is the sort of information I’d appreciate seeing published. Articles that over-simplify without at least some indication of the complexity of the facts are uninformative, misleading, and disrespectful.)

    I have a 7 month old who is still exclusively breastfed. I’ve been (persistently) trying to introduce solids for the past month, and she wants nothing to do with it. She has no signs of anemia, no pale skin or gums, no brittle hair, no fatigue; in fact, she just started crawling this week. My oldest child started solids at 4 months because she demanded it. My middle child started at 6 months. Am I worried about my youngest not taking solids yet? Nah. I’ll keep trying, and she’ll know when it’s time.

  5. Eight times I have tried to leave this comment, hopefully this time it will work! At least in the process of being written and lost it has been shortened and edited and thus contains less ranting!

    What I would like to hear is a little, nay, great deal more empowering and support of a mother’s natural instinct. When I had my first child it was astonishing what I instinctively knew (such as when to wean from breast to solids) if I could just block out the ‘helpful information’ I was bombarded with from outside, and just listen to my own voice within. Let us also treat the mother and child as the individuals they are.


  6. Please please tell me why the deal is that breast feeding has to be EXCLUSIVE. Where is the reasearch? As far as I know the probably isn’t that formula or bottle feeding is bad: it’s that breast milk is good. I breast fed all three of my kids, though not exclusively: first for 1 year, other two for 3. Yes really. Until one shouted in the supermarket, “I wanna suck!”

    I cannot help but think that this is a conspiracy to make things inconvenient for women. When I was a baby breast feeding was unthinkable because bottle feeding was much more inconvenient. Women didn’t work outside the home so could easily breastfeed but formula had to be prepared from scratch and bottles had to be sterilized. When I had my kids women, including me, worked outside the home so exclusive breastfeeding was a hassle involving breast pumping, freezing milk, etc. while bottle feeding, with ready-made formula and plastic bottle-inserts was dead easy. So the Authorities pushed exclusive breastfeeding to make life miserable for women.

    Ladies and gentlemen, I am a Utilitarian. Whatever the advantages of exclusive breastfeeding to babies, the inconvenience to working mothers far outweighs them. I breastfed to the extent that it was cheap and convenient and bottle fed when it was convenient. I did not pump or freeze. I put my own convenience ahead of my kids’ because I COME FIRST. So there.

    Dogmatic enough for you?

  7. I’m a nursing mom in the US, exculsively breastfeeding, and my pediatrician had us start giving our baby a vitamin with iron when she was four months old. (We were giving her a vitamin without iron before that.)
    SO: I think one of the lessons of this article has already been absorbed– that babies at four months need iron–and you don’t need to give up exclusively breastfeeding to do it. (I’m not sure what to make of the claims about food allergies.)

    ALSO: It is so annoying how the article keeps using the word “weening” from breastmilk to talk about the *introduction* of solid foods. You can (and should, if you can) keep breastfeeding even after you introduce solid foods!

  8. All this makes me furious. Why do you breastfeed exclusively when it’s a hassle? How great are the benefits to babies anyway? This issue isn’t whether exclusive breast feeding or introducing solids are best for babies: the issue is whether the hassle for women is worth it. So let’s discuss that–and get some empirical evidence–so that women can make a rational decision about trade-offs.

  9. My goodness, Harriet. It sounds as though you think the mother is going to make the best decision. Wow. Now that is really radical. It certainly goes against almost all the medical practice I know of. Next thing you know, someone is going to advocate for letting women to decide whether or not to have an abortion!

    [all the above is snark]

  10. I exclusively breast fed both of my children for 6 months, My second child is just starting cereal now at 6 months and both are very healthy children. Breast milk is what nature intended, each person does it differently, I think the bottom line is reading what your baby needs by knowing your baby. If your baby needs supplements you will know it.

  11. Its AMAZING! Wow what did mothers do without infamil and Gerber back in the day. Seeing as how the world didnt die out before the invention of these brands I will continue to exclusively breast feed my munchkin who by the way is six months this week!

    People listen to what your instinct says to you.

  12. Yeah… I am not going to believe breast feeding research carried out by people paid by the formula companies…..
    any one plucking at straws??? This so called ”research” has already been discredited..
    It is a well known fact that Iron stores last till somewhere AFTER 6 months,
    I also know the way food effects the stomach lining before 6 months
    and just to end on the main point… this research has been strongly discredited and was carried out by people on the formula companies pay roll…

  13. I ask again: why should I put my baby’s interests ahead of mine? Bottle feeding isn’t going to kill the kid. If it puts the baby at a slight disadvantage, the advantage to mothers, avoiding the hassle of pumping, or having to take more time off from work, outweighs any advantage to the baby. I come first. Women should not undertake significant disadvantages to themselves to produce minor advantages for their children. That was just the old time religion: women sacrificing themselves for their children. Why should we buy it?

  14. this is just stupid! do people really believe this load of BS?
    I mean Iron stores are still there and if it was such a big deal would they not be checking our babies iron levels?
    They don’t check in Ireland and UK! And if it was a worry they would do tests.
    They have been aiming for this kind of thing since they started bringing out adverts about iron content in their follow on milk.
    And I mean they as in the formula companies, because it is a well known fact that this ”information” was written by the formula companies employees.
    I would love to know where they get the statistics from because if no babies are being tested then where are they getting this info about low iron and being harmful? (making it up maybe?? using statistics from a biased source?)
    I breastfed all 4 of my babies exclusively to 6 months and never had any trouble with them, they are all healthy boys and no anemia, very smart, no stomach problems. I am currently breastfeeding my 5 month old daughter and I don’t intend to introduce solids till next month with her either. And I will be breastfeeding her for the first 12 months of life until she can drink whole cow’s milk.

  15. I would sacrifice my own life for that of my child.
    I would spend my free time doing his homework with him every night to bring him up one grade.
    I would spend my last bit of money to feed him even if it meant I didn’t eat.
    I would go with out so that he could have something he wanted.
    I would breastfeed to make sure that he gets anti-bodies and the nutrition that can’t be manufactured into formula and the things they keep discovering in breast milk and then try to put in the formula, so that he has the things that they may not even know he is getting.
    I would give up my life, my limbs, my organs ANYTHING for one of my children.
    I am pro choice on the choice of milk to feed, but Harriet, going out of your way to promote formula feeding? Come on!!!! Breast is best and always will be, so if a mother works her back side off to feed her baby nothing but human milk for 6 months then power to her, I worked my butt off and it wasn’t easy, it still isn’t easy and he is almost nine months. I plan on going to one year. I didn’t when I started but the more I learn about the benefits the longer I want to go, my original plan was 6 weeks!! but I am open minded and I researched and was taught at uni more and more about it and now I am convinced to one year, who knows.. I might find something that makes me want to go to 18 months or 2 years.. I don’t think so, but maybe?

  16. I balanced my kids interests against my own, like a good Utilitarian. I never went without so that my kids could have more. I would certainly never give up my life, limbs or organs for a kid–or for anyone. My career comes first. So, mother to boobie monster, how is the line you’re taking any different from the usual anti-feminist mom stuff promoting self-sacrifice? I have been a female father–I have never given my kids any more attention than a traditional man would give his kids. I bought a nanny to take care of them and pursued my own interests. Breast is best for the kid–but so what? I come first, and my career is more important than my kids’ wellbeing. What it feminism about if it’s not getting us out of this self-sacrificial mommyism, and liberating us to live our lives as men always have–for themselves and their careers?

  17. Wow, I gotta say, I find both Harriet’s and mother to boobie monster’s stances deeply disturbing. I don’t even know how to take sides on this one. What remarkably extreme views. A career is more important than a human being? You’d give up every single one of your evenings in order to bring your child up one grade? (And what is the rush exactly?) No offense but both views are totally strange to me. In the end, though, I am betting that MTBM’s kids spend more time on the therapy couch in the end.

  18. My considered policy, when I am not blowing steam out of my ears, has been to be a “good father” to my children. Because I work outside the home it seems reasonable that my role vis-a-vis my kids should be the same as that of a traditional, good father–a loving, part-time, secondary parent. Because my husband and I both work we hired substitutes–child care workers–to do the “primary parent” job.

    There’s nothing inherently undesirable about this job. What is unacceptable is the assumption that if women choose to have kids it’s they who ought to be doing it.

  19. Doesn’t sound like feminism to me. Sounds like penis envy. Seems a few people on this site want to be men. And not proud women who have the right to make their own choices contrary to what society believes.

  20. OF COURSE, I’d rather be a man than a woman. I’d rather have more priviledges and more choices than fewer. I’d rather be rich than poor, white than black, American than Kenyan, etc. Not because these things are inherently better but because they provide more bargaining chips to trade for desire satisfaction. That’s just plain rational.

    Anyway, it depends on what you mean by feminism and on my version the aim is not to valorize femininity but to liberate women from it. Wanna make something of it?

  21. It is an awesome privelidge to be a mother :) each to there own with feeding there children. I am still breastfeeding and love it my daughter is 1.5.
    No one has the right to judge another! Be happy with what u have and enjoy being a mummy :)

  22. :-) Dr. B is so practical. I was off work after my daughter was born, so nursing was easier. We dealt with night feedings by sleeping in the same bed. Unfortunately, she cut all 4 of her top incisors early, at 4 months. Then I came down with a nasty case of bronchitis, requiring meds that could have harmed her. We had no problems. I kept her on formula until she was a year old, tho. I think one of the issues with bottlefeeding is that people will try to push milk on their infants too early bc formula is expensive and/or time-consuming to prepare. This is what causes food allergies.

    Both methods have their drawbacks. My daughter cried more often for the boob. She was getting enough to grow, but seemed to want to nurse more often. With the bottle, she slept longer between feedings and only seemed to need it about every 4-5 hours. She is now a strong, healthy, bright, well-adjusted adult.

    My son’s feeding difficulties started earlier. He was bottlefed from birth. His cognitive functioning is unusual, for reasons unrelated to his early feeding. He is also tall& strong, and seems quite happy and well-adjusted, despite the extra work he has to do to keep up with his classmates.

    I don’t think there’s a difference. Some researchers have suggested that missing out on nursing for the first few days after birth, when the colostrum is available, leaves children’s immune systems less well developed. My son actually gets sick less often than my daughter. So much for that hypothesis.

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