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Boobs & Bread: Scientific fact shouldn’t offend

Fresh bread
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I am SO fed up with seeing health reports watered down through fear of upsetting people.

We’re used to seeing the benefits of breastfeeding qualified so as not to be seen to “bully” or “guilt trip” mothers who didn’t manage to breastfeed. People who dare to suggest, based on endless scientific studies, that formula is not equal to human breastmilk as a source of nutrition for human infants are villified for making vulnerable new mothers feel pressured.

But research does not bully or blame. People do that.

As a result of this endless tiptoeing around the facts, many mums are unaware that the World Health Organisation guidelines not only recommend exclusive breastfeeding to 6 months, as the NHS guidelines, but also to continue breastfeeding alongside solid food up until 2 years. The WHO makes no comment on practicality or achievability of this target. It’s just cold hard facts – this is what the evidence shows is best for babies.

It’s not just breastfeeding advice that gets diluted so not to offend. Did you know that research suggests we should actually be eating at least 8 portions of fruit and veg per day, not just the 5 that are recommended in the UK? The nutritional guidelines don’t mirror the research because 8 portions is considered unachievable for the average person here and they don’t want to set targets too high in case we don’t try at all.

Because that’s the obvious reaction isn’t it?

Eight portions? I’ll never manage that…. If I can’t meet the target I just won’t bother eating veg at all. Lets have chips instead!

Is it really necessary to baby us like this? Can’t they just give us the facts and let us work with them?

At the moment even breastfeeding up to 4 months is unachievable for a lot of women in the UK. Some of those choose to stop. Some struggle and eventually give up. Some don’t get enough support. Some feel empowered, some feel guilty… Being aware of the WHO guidelines might make you feel angrier about lack of support, but I don’t think is going to make you feel any worse.

Realistically, I don’t think that having the full facts would change the statistics much. The majority of women know the benefits of breastfeeding. Those who give up early on are not doing so easily or willingly. There’s no doubt that more support and less blame is the way forward in improving breastfeeding rates.

But I don’t understand why that means ignoring or diluting the facts. If research proved that eating homemade bread daily had massive health benefits for you and your child, wouldn’t you want to know, even if it sounded like an unachievable target?

If you had never made bread before and no-one would give you the recipe, would you feel guilty when you gave up after a few days of trying? If kneading the dough gave you repetitive strain injury and infections, and no-one was there to help, would you feel guilty about stopping? What if you had to go back to work and didn’t have the time or energy to bake bread for your baby to eat at childcare?

Even if it didn’t work out, wouldn’t you still want to know that the bread you did manage to bake was worth it? That those days when you cried with tiredness and frustration meant something?

And what if you discovered you were good at baking bread? What if you enjoyed it? Would you be marginalised and made to feel guilty because you continued to bake when others couldn’t? Would you be looked down on for letting your child eat your homebaked bread in public when there was sliced bread available?

Making bread is an art. Some people find it easier than others and others need lessons and practical help. If you decided that homebaking wasn’t for you, or after a while of trying your best, you made a decision to use sliced bread (an effective and much-needed substitute, but without the same long-term health benefits) would you feel guilty? Maybe you would. But would you take issue with the research itself, just because the target was unachievable for you? Would you feel bullied by the facts? I don’t think so.

It sounds ridiculous. So why is it so different if you are talking about breastfeeding instead of breadmaking?

There are a lot of obstacles to breastfeeding up to 2 years in our society, not least combining breastfeeding with working. In a lot of cases it is, effectively, unachievable. But some of us do get there, either through intention or accident. And we’re made to feel abnormal, or told we’re “smug” for succeeding at something that others haven’t. Watering down the evidence doesn’t make more mums try breastfeeding, it doesn’t help more mums continue, and I doubt it reduces the guilt when breastfeeding doesn’t work out.

In the real world, parenting means compromise and there should be no blame or guilt attached to the way you feed your child. Modern lifestyles are not always optimised for health.

But if everyone was aware that breastfeeding was recommended up to the age of 2 or more, maybe the minority who already breastfeed longterm wouldn’t be be marginalised and made to feel guilty either. Maybe those who currently feel pressured to give up at 6 months because “those are the guidelines” would feel empowered to continue until they are ready to wean.

Health research is about evidence, not judgements. It provides us with the information we need to make the best decisions for ourselves and our families. It is not always possible to do it all, even when you are aware of the benefits. But if we don’t even have all the facts to start with, how can we feel confidence in our choices?


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The Results are in… The “Shopping Gene”


Last week I was inspired by a piece of retail research into gender and shopping to try a social experiment.

I admit it wasn’t hugely scientific but, out of curiosity, I tweeted various “last chance to buy” kids clothing sale bargains and tracked which ones got the most clicks to see whether parents really are more interested in clothes for their daughters than their sons.

And my results were…. erm… pretty inconclusive really.

  • Girls and boys links were clicked equally.
  • Unisex lines were most popular

I even tried to see whether people were more interested in boys sun suits, bearing in mind that boys are supposed to be encouraged into more outdoor and active pursuits, but again, no real difference.

So I’m not sure it’s true at all. Maybe there isn’t enough variety to tempt parents to the boys clothes. Maybe boys have more crossover in their wardrobes, whereas girls are expected to have “best dresses” as well as “practical” outfits.

Incidentally, the line that got most interest was this shark print t-shirt – it’s a boys fashion line, but it’s not blue or sludge coloured…. and it’s suitable for girls, but it’s not pink… Basically, it’s a bit different – perhaps all we really want for both boys and girls is a little bit of variety?

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The Shopping Gene: Nature or Nurture?

Baby girl dress, Debenhams

I was interested to read a report about the so-called “shopping gene” in women this morning. Debenhams commissioned the study after their sales figures showed that their baby girls clothing outsells clothes for baby boys by a colossal 20%.

Apparently, those of us with little girls encourage them to care more about clothes through dressing up play and shopping together, whereas boys are encouraged into more active pursuits.

So why is it I’m always drawn to the boys stuff?

Romper suit, Debenhams

Don’t get me wrong – I love simple, cute little dresses for the small one, but show me a cute boys romper, or a cool tractor print and my purse opens on autopilot before I’ve even figured out who it’s for.

The small one has plenty of unisex clothing – I don’t see why cars & diggers should be just for the boys – but I do know understand why so many girls wear pink constantly until the age of 3. However many times you tell yourself that you don’t care if people think your beautiful daughter is a boy, it still rankles that it isn’t immediately obvious to them that she’s not.

I don’t know whether I would have bought less clothes for a boy. Possibly. There is often less variety in colour and style to justify spending the money. I know that if I find something lovely and feminine that isn’t pink, I feel the need to buy it immediately…

I grew up with a fairly gender neutral approach to life from both sides of the family and I hope that I don’t ever push her towards “feminine” activities when her interest is elsewhere. At the moment she enjoys a mix of activity and creativity which is all her own, and she’s definitely an outdoorsy kind of a girl.

At least, when I stereotypically instill a love of fashion and retail into my daughter I can pretend I’m teaching her about my career as a buyer. That’s OK – right?I’m going to be conducting a social experiment of my own on this later, posting some kids clothing “last chance to buy” sale bargains on Twitter to see which generate most interest.

What do you think? Do we really want to buy more clothes for girls, or are retailers just not giving us boys clothes worth buying?