Viv Gurrey: The importance of breastfeeding

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Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Viv Gurrey, chief executive, Parents Centres New Zealand writes on breastfeeding.

Parents Centres New Zealand has always stood for informed parenting and the rights of parents to make choices for themselves.

While we understand that Shelley Bridgeman has every right to make her own choices when it comes to the upbringing of her child we do not believe it is her right to undermine health and sector professionals and propagate misinformation that is potentially damaging and harmful to both mothers and their babies.

The views expounded are imbalanced, misinformed and indeed, potentially very damaging.

Mrs Bridgeman's basic argument is that official guidelines - WHO breastfeeding guidelines and Plunket advice on SUDI*, are only relevant to a certain socio-economic sector of society and they don't apply to her in her comfortable Auckland home.

In one fell swoop the article disregards the thousands of experts who have spent decades dedicated to making informed, tested and research-based recommendations for parents and children.

New Zealand is over-represented in a number of appalling parenting and child based statistics across the OECD. Agencies and other health professionals work tirelessly to propagate effective information, education and support services to women to influence the health of both mothers and babies.

While Mrs Bridgeman feels this is not useful to her, the myriad of solutions available to common health issues can be contained in two specific areas - breastfeeding and sleeping. The article undermines both of these areas and has as a consequence potentially put lives at risk.

Breastfeeding undisputedly has many benefits over bottle feeding for both mother and baby.

It's a complete food designed by nature with all the nutrients a baby requires to thrive; providing antibodies for the baby to protect it from illness; a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes for both mother and child; a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancer; a decreased risk of childhood obesity; and - above all - provides the necessary bonding and attachment to increase empathy which we see sadly lacking across society today (violent crime statistics and associated research point to this as a significant contributing factor alongside drug and alcohol use).

Contrary to what Mrs Bridgeman would have us think, these benefits apply to mothers and babies whether they live in a council flat in Porirua or a leafy street in Remuera. The very fact that she draws a distinction should have alarm bells ringing.

Plunket was next in the firing line from Bridgeman for their sleep recommendations to avoid SUDI.

Once again, says Mrs Bridgeman, recommendations around this simply do not apply to people who live in comfortable Auckland homes.

Unfortunately, babies do in fact die across all sectors of society and in all manner of homes from a number of causes, one of the biggest being sleeping-related issues.

The article also quotes 'reliable anecdotal evidence' regarding a link between breastfeeding and breast implants in 'a small and privileged sector of society'.

Unfortunately, once again Mrs Bridgeman's research has let her down - quite apart from the other benefits of breast over bottle, research clearly points to pregnancy and age as being the key factors in breast changes for women, and not breastfeeding itself.

These are dangerous messages, unfortunately made in a national newspaper to readers who deserve real, factual-based and sound advice, not conclusions which have been drawn in the vacuum of Remuera.

At Parents Centre our focus is on bonding, nurturing and loving - the fundamentals of parenting. We believe that parenting is everything; but well beyond that - well-informed parenting is everything, and a lot more.

Viv Gurrey, chief executive, Parents Centres New Zealand

Parents Centres New Zealand is the country's leading provider of childbirth education and parent education and support services. They operate though 50 Centres across the country and publish New Zealand's iconic parenting magazine, Kiwiparent.

* SUDI- sudden unexpected death of an infant, sometimes referred to as SIDS or cot death.

* Note: Due to the inappropriate nature of some of the emails, the comment function for this story has been made inactive.

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