Ah, Dr Miriam Stoppard on breastfeeding, you make me laugh

I actually laughed out loud when I read this piece of creative writing by Dr Miriam Stoppard yesterday. I call it creative writing because it certainly wasn’t an exercise grounded in scientific fact. Anyone using the title “Dr” to qualify their statements needs to feel the full weight of their responsibility to their audience.

Most of what she’s written doesn’t deserve a response. OK, actually all of it is. I am tempted to mention that some babies are born with teeth and that they’re called milk teeth for a reason. So why should that be a signal to wean? Better judgement tells me not to bother to mention that if babies are dependent on lab-concocted formula to get the iron they need then something is uniquely flawed in the biology of the human race.

I also don’t know why I feel I should say it but, being from the “Third World”, I can’t see why weaning at four months would be an “economic necessity”. The only reason I can think of is that formula marketing has so powerfully shaped the culture that daycare facilities would rather mix a bottle than defrost expressed breast milk.

A line like “There’s no keener fan of ­breast-feeding than me” in this blatantly anti-breastfeeding piece of propaganda should have discomfited even her.

No, what interested me was that Dr Miriam Stoppard thinks child-led weaning from the breast is crossing a line. In fact she’s “never heard of anything so irresponsible”. This got me for a number of reasons.

For one thing, why is our culture so uncomfortable with things being child-led? Discipline disregards children’s feelings, education is handed from above, independence is rushed from the moment we’re born. It’s a disturbing pattern in which the most vulnerable among us are treated as though their experience of the way they’re raised is irrelevant.

Her rant against extreme parents who breastfeed for too long (and I fall into this category by bed sharing, babywearing and continuing to breastfeed beyond a year) is also bizarre in its focus on feelings as if that’s all breastfeeding is about.

She says that mixed fed children are happy about it. Maybe, but why should feelings be the most important factor in infant nutrition? My daughter loves cake. You might even say it makes her happy. Her feelings about it don’t change its ingredients or their effects on her body.

And anyway, if we’re saying that combination feeding is fine because babies are happy about it then doesn’t that indicate that we’re being led by their choice which was apparently such a bad thing a few lines ago?

The mind boggles that people held in such high esteem by parents looking for guidance think nothing of spewing this kind of nonsense. Worse still, newspapers choose to print it. If breast milk is really so unnecessary, then why do scientists work so hard at making formula like it?

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  • Great post – if only there was a direct link from her piece to this one! I think it’s actually quite frightening that so many new parents looking for guidance are often met with articles and experts who only offer one point of view – as if that is the only way to do it and the only “right” way to do it. It leaves us with a real divide amongst parents, almost divided into “clubs” which follow certain approaches. I hated the way as a new mum that I felt I had to justify certain decisions – like my inability to leave my daughter to cry or my decision to breastfeed on demand. I’m not saying I was “right”, just that so many people I knew would make comments like, “She’s not hungry, she’s just fed”, or “You’ll stop when she gets teeth?” etc – all propagated by articles like this one. It’s as if there’s only one right way to do things and anyone who chooses another direction is clearly misguided. Rant over.
    Molly recently posted..On not letting the memories slip away

    • I think certainly you were right for you and F. I can’t see that you’ll look back on your life and think: “If only I’d let her cry more.”

    • Ha, you had a great idea, I just posted a shortened link to this post in the comment section of her article. So now there is :)!

  • I have recently been reading a lot of these articles on attachment parenting etc..honestly I’ve only started paying attention since I’ve migrated…the entire thing marvels me….everything that i grew up with as normal in Trinidad now had a label and is “contreversial” my mom and I slept in the same bed for years from the moment I came home from the hospital its apparently called co-sleeping and bed sharing …..I was breastfed until I decided to stop…it apparently baby led weaning..I was my moms hip accessory, I don’t even think she owned a stroller…found out that’s baby wearing…my point being…these were things women in Trinidad and possibly the Caribbean did naturally….we label them write a book about them and some how they become controversial,extreme and irresponsible…

    • I know what you mean. I don’t think the labels are solely the problem though. Labels evolve and books are written to stand against a culture in which these behaviours have been forgotten or become demonised.

      When I come back home to Trinidad , I love to see how people hold their babies so much. However, this time I’ve had people openly laugh at me for wearing Talitha with a sling. I actually overheard someone say: “That poor woman can’t afford a stroller.”

      I’m also shocked at how attitudes to breastfeeding have changed here – within a generation! Not only are women breastfeeding for less time but there are many who seem to think formula is necessary from a couple of weeks onward.

      Ättachment parenting came to be because parenting in North America had become so detached. It’s only a matter of time before it’s a discussion relevant to Trinidad and the Caribbean as a whole, perhaps under a different name. And that’s unfortunate. I certainly hope people start speaking out about gentle discipline soon.

  • Good god that article is deeply shocking – great response from you! I can’t understand this obsession that the goal of parenting is to make your child independent as soon as possible after leaving the womb!!! They are children, for gods sake! Being dependent is how they learn about love and caring and all that stuff that is a whole lot more important than independence! Am I alone in thinking that a little bit more depending on each other and a little bit less focussing on individualism might not be a bad thing for society??

  • Dr S has long been a controversial voice. About 20 years ago when I was a journalist for the Big Issue, I interviewed her and she more-or-less said that the reason for all the young homeless was the fault of their mothers.

    • Sorry if I brought it to your attention when you’d not have seen it otherwise. It’s so poorly thought through it doesn’t even deserve our anger…except that it was published!

  • I confess I have quite a few books from Dr. Stoppard. They were given to me by various friends when I was expecting my first. I did find them very helpful but although I can’t remember reading anything on breast-feeding, as I was prepared to make my own way where that was concerned. In the end I combination fed out of necessity rather than choice but my boy seems quite strong. That said by the time he was 5 1/2 months I began weaning him onto solids, good Caribbean hard food so he’s strong boy. We also co-sleep again out of neccessity for my sanity rather than because I planned to. I too sleep with my mum. We co-slept until I was 10 year old. Imagine that, lol but it also meant it took me a long time to learn to sleep alone and I didn’t want that for my son. I didn’t want him to be afraid. However, here again he surprises me and is not shows no sigh of being afraid of the dark, he come to our bed because he wants a cuddle. How can I say ‘No’ to that :0)

    Articles such as you mentioned really get to the first time parents and cause them no end of anxiety and frustration when things don’t go according to the book. For those of us who go on to have more children, we soon learn to do it our way and hope for the best.

    Excellent post. Thanks for sharing.

    • I have one of her books too. Got it while pregnant, started reading then put it aside because it was so prescriptive it freaked me out.

      As for the bedsharing thing… I was in my own room from 6 months and was scared of the dark until I was 19. I don’t think whether you do or don’t has as much of an effect as what your disposition is. I’m naturally quite a nervous person.

  • He he I was always afraid of everything extreme, I’ve never even climbed a tree! But, hey, I’m EXTREME parent now woo-hoo!!! Glad I found your blog.

  • I can’t bear to read the original article now, it’s too late and it’ll be so depressing, but hoorah and thank you for voicing sense in the face of such judgemental nonsense.

    • Don’t read it, Charlie. It’s just awful. No good will come of reading it. I am wondering just how to complain about it though. I don’t know that I have time to write a proper letter to the editor while on holiday.

    • Well I think she’s advocated combination feeding from four months rather than stopping but then introducing formula usually leads to stopping. You just follow your instincts.

  • I finally decided to pluck up the courage to read the piece and my overwhelming emotion was not one of anger but absolute shock! How can it be legal for anyone affiliated with a formula company to write anything on breastfeeding???
    And here we go again with the teeth remark. That just sealed it for me.
    I was however lifted by the comments which all seemed to be strongly disagreeing. It gets me down that there is a new article EVERY week and there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do about stopping them. No-one seems to care that these articles are damaging women and babies every day 🙁

    Thanks again for your response Adele x
    Kate Buckley (@scattymumofboys) recently posted..A Confidence Boost

    • I suppose we can write to the editors to complain. I haven’t looked into this with any detail but there must be something concrete we can do.

  • Oh my all kinds of gosh ! This article is such an absolute load of rubbish that initially I actually thought it was a joke. As a fellow extreme parent I believe that letting my child gain their independence at a pace that works for them leads to greater confidence. I take issue with the idea that the goal from the minute you give birth is to teach your child independence, whats the rush. Great post Adele.
    Purplemum recently posted..How To Teach Your Baby To Use Make Up

  • As someone who is struggling with the concept of extended feeding (if not the practise: when Bethany crawls over, beams at me and signs ‘milk’ I don’t even think about it) these types of damaging articles are really affecting me. However, once I’d read 11 pages(!) of counter comments plus your great article, I felt much more positive. Thanks Adele, and all those people who took time to comment on the article to refute such toxic tosh. I just hope that such strong responses jolt the good Dr into some common sense.

    • Helen, you make me glad I wrote this but also sad that I may have pointed out this article to you. I can’t comment on what she writes in other areas, but Dr Stoppard has not written any truth here, rest assured. Would it help to mentally shift the “deadline”? Breastfeeding beyond a year is simply what’s natural and normal for most babies.

      By the way, I love that Bethany signs “milk”. I’ve been terrible at teaching Talitha that one. She signs “eat” and points to breastfeed!

  • Hello there. That article seemed so ignorant, but considering where it was printed that’s not unexpected. It’s interesting how people are now labelling natural parenting as “extreme parenting”. Like everything in modern society, we seem to forget that we are animals and have instincts. Let’s just sterilise ourselves from the environment, we have boundaries for countries, it’s only natural to proceed with boundaries for when breastfeeding is stopped; all children should be potty trained at 3 years, 4 months and 2 days, they are all ready for school at 15.30 on a Thursday on the 23rd week after their birthday.
    It’s like best before dates on food, people are getting too used to being told things, they’re not following common sense. Although “common” sense in this case is now debatable considering how many people just follow along.
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