Sunday 19 November 2017

Forget the diktats - mother knows best

Milk of human kindness: 'one-rule-fits-all’ does not apply to babies

Every baby is different, and diktats of any kind can suppress a mother's natural instincts. Photo: getty Images
Every baby is different, and diktats of any kind can suppress a mother's natural instincts. Photo: getty Images

Rose Prince

Healthy children are born of a mother’s healthy attitude to food. But here we are in the middle of yet another breastfeeding controversy that centres on the correct age to wean a baby. Once again, it seems, all mothers are being treated as silly cows.

A review of ''weaning’’ studies concludes that babies should be weaned before they reach the currently recommended age of six months. If not they risk developing iron deficiency, allergies, intolerances and – get this – a future as a ''plain’’ eater. On the long list of disasters I fear might befall my children, the idea that their potential as a restaurant critic will be jeopardised by the age at which they were introduced to solids and new flavours ranks only slightly lower than them being hopeless at playing the tuba.

You see, mother does know best – though she must be well informed. If I had not given my huge, four-month-old boy a little ground barley and apple, I swear he would have jumped out of my arms and fixed it for himself. He was still getting his milk but I sensed that he craved more bulk – and I was right.

Within days of weaning, he was sleeping through and crying less. By six months we needed two spoons to catapult food into his open mouth at two-second intervals. He is now a 6ft 2in 15-year-old. And as to his palate – it veers from periods of extreme resistance to weirdly eclectic episodes.

Health visitors and midwives seem to fear that if breastfeeding is discouraged at all in the early months, mothers will resort to liquidised Big Macs, or jars of manufactured, additive-rich mush. And predictably, with the publication of this review, the breast-is-best militia have reacted with horror.

I sympathise, but nurture comes down to an understanding of nourishment. Approximately one third of the population are ''health rejectors’’ – people who take no interest in nutrition, an attitude all too often connected to poverty and lack of education.

It is too easy to dictate that every baby is breastfed. The odd cooking lesson offered to mothers of three-month-old babies would, in the long term, be a wiser option and save families money. A baby can have breast milk along with solids, after all.

And for those who can’t or won’t cook, or who need to buy convenience baby food, the choice of good quality, affordable, organic fare has never been better. When my children were small it was a toss-up between a broiler-reared chicken dinner and vegetable surprise with added pesticide.

I loathe blanket nutritional advice. Where is the logic in ''one rule fits all?’’ Every baby is different, and diktats of any kind can suppress a mother’s natural instincts. It horrifies me that mothers I know, intelligent, confident women, seem to cease thinking for themselves when it comes to nurturing their babies. Of course, the health authorities and scientists have our best interests at heart, but going through a G-cup phase in life doesn’t mean we turn as dumb as the four-legged girls in a milking parlour.

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