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Breastmilk quality and claims that formula is better: a bad case of a scientist misquoted

by on 2014/02/21

So I am spending a lot of time breast feeding at the moment, and I am tired (understatement!) but confident that the effort is worth it because ‘breast is best’ and ‘every breast feed counts’. I then come across an article in the Daily Mail that claims that formula feeding may be better! Specifically they state that “research also shows that the quality of breast milk varies greatly from woman to woman, with different amounts of vitamins, minerals, sugars, fats and other nutrients. In some cases, the quality is so low that formula may be better”. Wow! What a statement! It completely contradicts the WHO recommendations and NHS advice.

The source of the ‘research’ in question is unclear. The article relates to a conference presentation of the very well known Professor of Evolutionary Biology, Katie Hinde, but it is not clear when they make this statement if they are referring to her research or her claims about other’s research. The actual Daily Mail article focuses mainly on whether boys and girls should get different formula milk and it is unclear why these statements about quality of breast milk appear.  I have some familiarity with Katie Hinde’s work, having done quite a bit of research on breastfeeding over the last 11 weeks of breast feeding my newborn, and I am very surprised that she would have said this.

I then look up Katie Hinde and go on to her blog ‘Mammals Suck’ and also take a peek at her Twitter page to discover she is irate about this article and says she has been completely misquoted.  She says that the “Daily Mail and its derivatives fabricated my opinions, polluted the science, and undermined moms (U.S. based researcher)”. On her blog, Katie Hinde explains the truth behind the Daily Mail’s statements, so I won’t go into any more detail here. However, she does say that the quality of breast milk statement was put to her and she actually corrected it. Even worse! The Guardian also misquoted Katie Hinde but have now corrected the headline to some level of satisfaction to the scientist. Suffice to say that this type of reporting is not going to ensure successful communication between scientists and reporters!

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