Nestlé-sponsored TV show: “Breastmilk no different from Coca-Cola.”

GMTV sparks breastfeeding row

“GMTV has reportedly sparked complaints to media regulator Ofcom after a programme expert claimed that breast milk can be “as bad as cola”.

Midwife Clare Byam-Cook made the remark yesterday while being interviewed on air by Lorraine Kelly, The Mirror reports.

She is quoted as saying: “Breast milk beyond the age of 2 isn’t necessarily good because it’s very, very sweet. The fact that it’s breast milk doesn’t make it any different to a glass of Coca-Cola.”[…]

GMTV’s ability to be impartial on the subject of breastfeeding has been called into question in the past as its weather slot is sponsored by baby-milk maker Nestlé.

A spokesperson for the morning programme insisted: “This item was fair and balanced.””

Yes, she said that. Word for word.

You can view the whole segment here at The Lactivist. Sorry, no transcript yet. In summary, it’s a panel with Ann Sinnott, who wrote a book on Breastfeeding Older Children, Nicola Harris, who is tandem breastfeeding her four year old and infant, and Byam-Cook. Sinnott and Harris come across as remarkably practical and level-headed, in contrast to Byam-Cook’s discomfort. I particularly like Harris’ response to “Why do you do it?”, which starts with a simple, “Because she asks. Because I can.”

During the show, on the subject of breastfeeding past two, Byam-Cook says “I don’t see why mothers need support.” She compares breastfeeding beyond the age of two to a toddler sitting up till midnight watching TV and eating lollies. She also gets quite agitated about breastfeeding as “snacking between meals”, which she believes preschoolers should not be allowed to do. Cos, y’know, FATTY MCFATFAT. She says over and over and over again, with a screwed-up disgust face, “breastmilk is very sweet. Very, very sweet.”

Note that her assertion that breastfeeding leads to higher rates of tooth decay is debunked. Breastmilk, in fact, contains ingredients such as lactoferrin that actively fight the bacteria involved in tooth decay, and there is no evidence of a role for full-term breastfeeding in the genesis of caries. The idea that children who have breastfed for more than a few months are FATTY MCFATFAT and have disturbed relationships with food is also straight out of some bizarro opposites-world.

Byam-Cook also writes for the Gina Ford website. The site and Ford’s books have been widely excoriated for an insistence on strict scheduling (including a bald declaration that normal babies feed no more often than every 3-4 hours), leaving young babies to cry, routine very early bottle-feeding, and not “spoiling” those horrible manipulative infant with things like excessive love and human contact. Ford also appears to have a nasty habit of suing chat forums for allowing participants to snark at her methods.

I’d like to see Byam-Cook try to raise a kid on 750 ml of Coke a day and nothing else.

* Water, sucrose or HFCS, caffeine, caramel, phosphoric acid, flavours.


* Water, lactose, fat (including various essential fatty acids), protein, phospholipids, oligosaccharides, nucleotides, amino acids, immunoglobulins (for whatever current environmental threats there are), lactoferrin, lysozyme, calcium, iron, copper, zinc, potassium, magnesium, chromium, manganese, iodine, selenium, fluoride, molybdenum, vitamins A, C, D, E, K, thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), B6, B12, niacin, folate, biotin, hormones, a variety of growth factors, enzymes, probiotic bacteria, antiviral mucins and glycoconjugates, cytokines, live white cells, and possibly around 100 other ingredients not yet fully characterised. Composition changes from hour to hour, day to day, month to month and year to year according to demands/needs.

Wait, no, I wouldn’t recommend that. THOUGHT EXPERIMENT ONLY. Don’t try this at home.

Categories: gender & feminism, health, Science

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21 replies

  1. I saw the headline somewhere, and thought, that has to be a spoof, so I didn’t even bother clicking on it. I’m gobsmacked. The ignorance and arrogance is astonishing.

  2. Everytime Clare Byam Cook makes an appearance she makes some utterly ridiculous comment on breastfeeding. Problem is the media book her alot, they stick her on air, claim she’s a midwife (she was a couple of decades ago but not now) and a breastfeeding expert and some mums will then believe this fraud because they’ve said she’s a professional.

  3. So breast milk has 20 grams of sugar per 300ml?

  4. Breastmilk has plenty of lactose, yes, along with oligosaccharides. Children use lactose and oligosaccharides to maintain the amazing young-human growth rate and rapid brain development, have lots of energy, and optimise gut bacteria. Around 7 grams per 100 ml is usually quoted, though it varies. 300 ml would be an absolutely enormous single breastfeed, by the way; children between the age of 2 and 3 would typically take more like 300-360 ml per day, often less. As an aside, below 300 ml per day, protein and immunoglobulin levels in milk increase, and lactose decreases.
    One of the problems with feeding cow or goat milk is that the lactose level is lower than human milk. Many formulas attempt to “compensate” for this by adding sucrose or even corn syrup.
    The same people who clutch their pearls about the lactose content of mother’s milk tend to get upset about mother’s milk containing about the same fat level as whole cow’s milk (though it changes hugely through a feed), including – *gasp* – cholesterol. Actual, live, deadly, OMGCHOLESTEROL. The fact that artificially fed people end up with, on average, higher rates of heart disease and diabetes and cancer and infections and etc seems to escape them; they’re so used to thinking in the mode of supposedly optimising adult health via nutrient deprivation that they simply can’t think outside of this little box.
    Also, those same people insisting that toddlers don’t require the nutrients in human milk tend to be the ones who tend to insist that toddlers and older children absolutely must drink 600 ml of cow’s milk per day. How they reconcile this intellectually is beyond me.

  5. Lauredhel, while “optimising adult health via nutrient deprivation” is a part of what’s going on, I don’t think it’s all of it. The other thing is that, in mainstream commercial culture, formula is the unexamined default. Yes, mother’s milk has cholesterol; so does cow’s milk, but the formula makers don’t publicize that, so the general public assumes formula is cholesterol-free.
    I heard a college student once—at an environmental college, no less—saying that she would never breast-feed a baby because of the dioxin that would be in the milk. Several of us explained to her that cow’s milk has dioxin in it too, and that breast milk is still better, but she didn’t want to hear it.
    And as to “those same people insisting that toddlers don’t require the nutrients in human milk tend to be the ones who tend to insist that toddlers and older children absolutely must drink 600 ml of cow’s milk per day. How they reconcile this intellectually is beyond me.” …I don’t think they do reconcile it. Juxtaposing these conflicting claims the way you have makes it clear that this is just cultural beliefs, hoops to jump through so you can be socially approved as a Properly Parenting Mother. Which is why people react so fiercely against any criticism: science-based criticism threatens their both social acceptance and their children’s protection by the Magic Cow’s-Milk Fetish.

  6. Wait, no, I wouldn’t recommend that. THOUGHT EXPERIMENT ONLY. Don’t try this at home.

    Too late! I know someone whose parents fed him solely on flat coke for a while as a newborn after his mum was unable to breastfeed. His parents openly admit to it but claim that their doctor told them to do it after he had some health problems (something that medical people I’ve talked to about it find hard to believe, but you never really know given it was 40 years ago). Am definitely not recommending the coke diet, that he survived ok with no ill effects is probably just a sign of how resilient babies can be.
    Incidentally the only liquid his father drinks with the exception of a bit of wine occasionally is coke. Prior to meeting him I didn’t think that would be possible without rather bad side effects (and he’s done it for many years).

  7. I’m no science-brain but well the whole ‘it’s SWEET’ thing surely has flaws that even a non-science brain can pick from a mile off. Fruit is sweet, nay? And yet *good for you*. There is sweet-tasting and there is contains-stacks-of-processed sugar. Surely we can differentiate?

  8. “How they reconcile this intellectually is beyond me.”
    I think the word “intellectually” might be over-stating the case.

  9. I know someone whose parents fed him solely on flat coke for a while as a newborn

    If “for a while” is “for a few days” – sure, newborns can even survive with _no_ food for a few days. (though BRRR, that’s a helluva lot of caffeine for a newborn.) Babies are not uncommonly pulled out of rubble or mudslides up to around a week after disasters, rehydrated and fed, and survive. Kids on sugar water won’t grow, though, and obviously the macro- and micro-nutrient deficiencies will kill them in the end. If they’re claiming any longer than that, I’d view the claims with a fair few grains of salt.

    I’m no science-brain but well the whole ‘it’s SWEET’ thing surely has flaws that even a non-science brain can pick from a mile off.

    You would think… but I’m guessing these are also the people who sternly lecture that everyone should severely limit intake of apples, cherries, corn, peas, carrots, beets, parsnips, etc. Fine for the odd very carb-sensitive diabetic of course, but as an edict for all of us, especially babies? No no no no no. All the evidence in the world points to breastfed children receiving optimal metabolic ‘programming’, and the lactose and cholesterol are all part of that.

  10. I’d also like to say a few words in praise of fat – without fat, the brain can’t function. And since a newborn’s brain grows at an amazing rate, depriving a baby of fat can have serious consequences for their mental development. Fat is your friend.

  11. I don’t see why babies should be still breastfed after 1 year as they are now fully on solids and are allowed cow’s milk. The child should not be that dependend on the mother. It should be allowed to grow up. And affection can still be shown with a cuddle.

  12. Anny: How curious that you should think that milk from an ungulate is more appropriate for young humans than milk from our species. I wonder why you think that? Do you feel it is more nutritionally appropriate for some reason, or is it based on other feelings?
    Do you have reasons for believing that you know better than the World Health Organisation on this subject?

    The child should not be that dependend on the mother.

    Really? What makes you think that a 12 month old baby should be forced to be independent from hir parents?

    I don’t see why babies should be still breastfed after 1 year

    Perhaps we could recommend some reading for you. Sinnott’s book might be a great start, along with Norma Jane Bumgarner’s Mothering Your Nursing Toddler. While you’re sourcing those, check out the toddler breastfeeding and sustained breastfeeding pages on Kellymom, the ABA information on sustained breastfeeding, La Leche League information on sustained breastfeeding, Dettwyler’s A Natural Age of Weaning, and Dr Sarah Buckley’s “The Pleasure of Extended Breastfeeding”.
    If you still have some questions after educating yourself on these basics , feel free to ask.

  13. Dear Lauredhel,
    I do find your reply quite aggressive. I am entitled to my opinion as much as the breastfeeding mothers are. I thought this site was for a healthy dialog not for people that disagree to be told off.

    [snip looooong tale that has nothing to do with the topic]

    So, even though I respect the right of the mothers to breastfeed older (or younger) children

    [snip rest of loooooong tale that has nothing to do with the topic]

  14. Anny:
    “Allowed cows’ milk” is not the same as “cows’ milk is better”.
    Also, it is impossible to “spoil” an infant with too much affection. No, really.

  15. Pharaohkatt:
    The quality of the mother’s milk depends on the mothers nutrition and wellbeing at the time of the feed. In ideal conditions mother’s milk will be better than cow’s, but how often is that the reallity? It wasn’t for me and it is not for many of the mothers I know that have hardly any time to eat especially if this is not their first child. In my case my baby was not only constantly hungry but also in a permanent state of diarroea from the amount of medicine I was taking (not even that stopped the midwives from insisting to breastfeed). So the mother should really make a tough choice.
    I think that was the point that Clare Byam-Cook was making. That it is not necesserily the best in all cases.
    Btw, to clarify, I never said that cow’s milk is better. When I said cow’s milk is allowed I also said that the baby is now on solids. That meaning that the milk is not the sole source of vitamins, calcium, …
    I do admire the mother in the interview that very sharply answered “Because she asks, because I can”. It might be the case for her. But for the rest of us that realise that what she does for her child might not benefit our childs the midwives/health visitors/all experts should stop the guilt game and let us be.

  16. Anny: Is there a reason you avoided answering any of the questions I asked?
    In ideal conditions mother’s milk will be better than cow’s, but how often is that the reallity?
    Almost always. As you would know if you’d read the references I sent you, and poked around the sites. In your particular case? I have no idea – and this post is not about you.
    You’re suffering from a comprehension problem here. Both of Byam-Cook’s statement, and of what this post is about. This post, this one here in front of you, is about a statement that mother’s milk is no different from Coca-Cola if the mother has been feeding that particular child for more than two years.
    Do you have anything to say on that topic? If all you can do is fail to engage with the topic in order to talk about yourself, please find a more appropriate forum. If you need to talk through your experience and don’t know where to go, perhaps you could ask for suggestions on a Chatterday thread?

  17. Lauredhel:
    If you had listened to the interview without prejudice you would know that she was using a metaphor to make a point and that was not what she actually meant.

    I will not reply to this blog any more because any disagreeing party is cast as uninformed, uneducated and plain stupid. This approach does not conform to the comment rules of the blog which I suggest you to read.

    I have nothing more to say to people that are so lead by their beleives that they have not space for conversation

  18. Hehe. Grammar fail in snooty comments always makes me giggle.
    And ‘metaphor’?? I have come over all Inigo Montoya: ‘You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means’:
    metaphorical – Pertaining to or characterized by a metaphor; figurative; symbolic
    a figure of speech in which one thing is referred to as another; for example, “my love is a fragile flower”

  19. I should clarify my last comment. I’m astounded and amazed by Anny’s response to Lauredhel. That last sentence is kind of mind-blowingly self-referential.
    I’m cautious about the amount of Coco-cola and other fizzy drinks that my 8 and 11 year olds have. Lemonade’s the go around here, and that in limited quantities for special events. I’m still just floored by the idea that anyone would even think that coca-cola and breastmilk are comparable.
    Is Anny for real?

  20. Fantastic blog post…thank you very much. Makes me proud to be a lactator (going on 14 years straight now, one baby after the other).

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