Olympic medallist Bevan Docherty has spoken out in support for parents who choose to bottle-feed their children.

The triathlete said while "breast is best", being a good father is more important - even if that means bottle-feeding.

A growing debate has emerged following the removal of a two-second clip from a smokefree television ad of All Black Piri Weepu bottle-feeding his 6-month-old daughter, Taylor.

The shot was cancelled after Health Sponsorship Council TV sought advice from numerous health groups, including La Leche League, which said it gave an "inconsistent message".


Docherty, 34, yesterday posted a photo of himself bottle-feeding his 6-week-old son, Fletcher, on Twitter.

He told the Herald that being a good dad was more important than whether a child was breast or bottle-fed.

"I understand that there are issues with bottle-feeding ... it's related to obesity and stuff like that, but at the end of the day as long as you're a good dad and get your kids into sport, you're obviously not going to have any troubles with childhood obesity," he said. "I think it's more important that dads are involved with their kids and that image of Piri bottle-feeding is a great image to show dads out there that it's great to be a supportive dad."

Docherty, who is based in California, said he and his wife "mixed it up" when it came to feeding their son.

"My wife has her own business and she's pretty busy and I'm training for the Olympics, so I'm pretty busy. So we both have pretty busy lives and ... it makes the whole family more cohesive when we alternate between the two."

Docherty's 16-month-old daughter was raised on breast milk and formula and was "super healthy", he said.

He thought it was ridiculous that the shot of Weepu with his daughter was removed and that the pro-breastfeeding advocates were isolating themselves from a lot of people.

Docherty has never met Weepu and said he was supporting men's rights to bottle-feed their children. "I'm just trying to be the best dad I can be and obviously Piri is doing that too. I understand the whole breastfeeding thing, but it's certainly more important to promote good fathers."


La Leche League yesterday said it felt unfairly accused of an attack on bottle-feeding and father's rights.

Spokeswoman Lisa Manning said the sometimes "venomous" criticism of the league had been surprising, when the issue had been to prevent one Government health campaign from undermining another.

"It wasn't about judging anyone or criticising anyone's parenting, or trying to inadvertently undermine anyone's father-child relationship. La Leche has always reinforced the importance of bonding between dads and their children."

If someone asked the league for advice on formula feeding, its policy was to refer them to health practitioners, because La Leche members were not experts in that area.

"Health workers have an obligation to provide unbiased information on infant feeding," Ms Manning said.

The Herald received more than 200 emails about its report yesterday on Auckland mother Kate Rhodes being harassed in public for bottle-feeding.

The Ministry of Health:
* Recommends exclusive breastfeeding of babies until around 6 months old.

* Says breastfeeding may reduce many health risks, such as sudden unexpected death in infancy, asthma, and obesity in later life.

* Recognises some mothers and babies are unable to breastfeed and provides information on infant formula.

More information: health.govt.nz and healthed.govt.nz.


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