Sunday, January 16, 2011

Thoughts on exclusive breastfeeding

Today is my day to write about headlines from the news apparently.

My friend Claire mentioned on her Facebook a couple days ago that a newspaper in England (where her family lives) ran an article about why you should NOT breastfeed exclusively for the first six months. While reading news articles on Google, I came across something similar in the L.A. Times. I assume that the small group of experts quoted in this article from the Times are the same ones from the article Claire's father told her about. Luckily for me, the link to the actual article from the British Medical Journal was in the Time article, so I could go straight to the source.

The article does not say that you should not breastfeed at all. Good start. Breastfeeding exclusively for six months is associated with no apparent growth deficits, although infants who are breastfed exclusively for that long have lower iron levels. Children who are breastfed exclusively for six months have lower risk of pnuemonia, ear infections and stomach problems. I liked that the study pointed out that children who have been switched over to formula were more likely to be admitted to the hospital with infections than those who were started on solids early. The possible concerns from the study are that waiting longer to introduce solids can lead to higher incidence of food allergies and celiac disease, along with iron deficiency. The research itself is actually very good. The article summarized the information well and looked at both sides. It's always good to go to the source if you can, because the media tends to sensationalize information.

Now for my own personal experience, which obviously is not going to be everyone's. I breastfed exclusively for six months. Raegan didn't have a drop of solid food until her sixth month birthday. She never had formula. Raegan doesn't have any food allergies (or food aversions like the article also suggests may happen) and at her one year blood draw she wasn't anemic. I'm not saying, "Well my baby is fine, so that means all babies are fine." Wouldn't that contradict what I just said in my previous post? :) My pediatrician noted that since Raegan wasn't really all that interested in solids (espeically iron fortified cereals) until she was 8 or 9 months, that I should be giving her a multivitamin with iron to combat anemia. Which is exactly what I did. So there's one way to combat the worry of iron deficiency from breastfeeding exclusively.

I don't know what the right answer is. One pediatrician in our practice says to wait until babies are six months old to introduce solids because of how it can affect future obesity rates. Another says you can start at four to six months, but not before four. (Which is what this article is saying.) For me, I felt best waiting until six months. For other parents, they may not feel so strongly. I guess the point of this post is that it's always a good idea to go to the original source of information if at all possible. The title "Breast May Not Be Best for the First Six Months of Life" from the L.A. Times article is kind of misleading, if you ask me. If you go to the original journal article, it's pretty clear that breastfeeding is still preferred over formula feeding. Which I agree with 100%! :)


Samantha said...

I always feel like it's an up-hill battle to keep nursing and to justify why I keep nursing. Articles like this just don't help things.

How do you feel about vitamins? We haven't given Piggles any, though our paediatrician keeps pushing them. My irons levels have been great, so I'm not super worried about it.

We're trying to delay til 6 months, but Piggles is desperately interested in watching us eat and getting her hands into our food (ssh, I let her have a tiny taste of sweet potatoes the other day and she was in heaven.)

Shannon said...

I'm pretty sure it was Raegan's 9 month appointment, when she still wasn't keen on iron fortified cereal that her pediatrician recommended using vitamin drops with iron in them. She said that newborns draw off the iron stores they build up during pregnancy until those stores start to run out around six months. And the only reason she recommended a multivitamin with iron is because at that point Raegan still wasn't eating a heck of a lot of solids. Too much iron can be harmful to a baby, but in Raegan's case the supplement was probably necessary.

I had a baby that had no interest in solids at 6 months. Or 7 months. Or even 8 months, really. So for me, delaying solids was not a big deal. I read through the infant development class I took in college that some of the signs your baby is ready for solids is if they can sit up unassisted (which naturally puts you closer to the six month mark for most babies) and shows interest in food. Another sign to look for is if they still have the tongue thrust reflex - you put the spoon to their mouth and they automatically push it out with their tongue. If they still have that tongue relfex, then their tongue hasn't matured enough to be ready to coordinate eating yet.

And I know what you mean about feeling like you have to justify nursing. I got so many comments after Raegan started solids - "she's eating solids isn't she, why are you still nursing?" Um, because you wouldn't stop formula cold turkey at six months, why would you stop nursing. If you go past a year, that's when you'll really get the comments. :) Just you wait!

Olivia Arlene said...

Interesting stuff. My doctor keeps trying to get me to put Lily on multivites, but I haven't yet. I plan on exclusively breastfeeding for as long as possible. A year if need be. I'm not wanting to force food on her until she is ready. I've made the mistake of starting solids too soon with Sean and Eleanor, so I want to do things differently.

Shannon said...

I was so excited about *finally* getting to give Raegan solids that I kept trying and trying to feed her cereal. The first day was fine - she ate some bites and was okay. After about a week, she was crying when I was trying to give her cereal, and that's when I said enough. She was miserable and I was miserable for causing her misery, so I stopped. I tried a few times a week, but if she turned away, I put it up.

Now I have this great eater. She's going through the normal picky toddler stage, but overall she eats a LOT of different foods, and a lot of healthy foods. Raegan's a good height and weight for her age, and super smart, and has no food allergies, so I feel like the way I did it was just fine. :)

Olivia Arlene said...

Yep, it's important to trust your mommy instincts so matter what anyone else says :)