Expert says the benefits of breastfeeding are oversold

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According to a Canadian expert the benefits of breastfeeding are 'being oversold' to women.

Michael Kramer, a professor of pediatrics says that much of the evidence used to persuade mothers to breastfeed was either wrong or out of date.

Professor Kramer, who has been an adviser to the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and the Cochrane Library, believes a significant amount of evidence behind the claims is flawed and he suggests that many of the claims about the benefits of breastfeeding are false and oversold, as there is little evidence that mother’s milk protects babies against illness or allergies.

Breastfeeding is advocated for a plethora of reasons by organisations worldwide for both baby and mother - for babies it supposedly protects against obesity, allergies, asthma and diabetes, aids the development of a baby's eyesight, speech and intelligence, lessens the risk of cot death and promotes a special loving bond between mother and baby.

For mothers breastfeeding is thought to help the body return to its pre-pregnant state more quickly, lose excess weight and offers some protection against cancer of the breast and ovaries, heart disease and osteoporosis.

Professor Kramer, based at McGill University in Montreal, has studied evidence on breastfeeding since 1978, and he says the evidence that breastfeeding protects against obesity was flawed, the evidence it protects against allergies and asthma is also weak and there is little to support claims that it reduces the risk of leukaemia, lymphoma, bowel disease, type 1 diabetes, heart disease and blood pressure.

Professor Kramer says he is not in favour of overselling the evidence and false information should not be conveyed and some of the advice promulgated is false information.

It is thought that mothers who choose to breast feed are more likely to follow medical advice on breastfeeding and were also more likely to be part of a family that had a healthier lifestyle and breastfed babies may have better outcomes because of other factors.

Professor Kramer does says that some claims were well founded, such as the protective effect on ear infections and gastrointestinal illnesses - this is supported by Joan Wolf, an assistant professor from Texas A&M University who has spent five years researching the medical literature on breastfeeding - Ms Wolf says only the benefits on gastrointestinal illnesses had been conclusively proven.

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