Formula as good as breast milk, claims scientist

The phrase 'breast is best' has long been used to encourage new mothers to feed their baby naturally. But now a Norwegian scientist has controversially claimed that it may not be the case.

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Professor Sven Carlsen's theory is based around the conditions the baby experiences in the womb. When high levels of male hormones are found in the womb, the nutrients that feed the baby are affected and this in turn may affect its ability to breastfeed. This suggests that babies who are bottle-fed have been subjected to poorer conditions in the womb and that this is what causes health problems.

The team, from the University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, reviewed data from over 50 international studies examining the relationship between breastfeeding and health. And Professor Carlsen insists that there is no evidence that natural feeding reduces the risk of asthma or allergies, which is commonly attributed to breastfeeding.

But British experts have dismissed the theory instantly, calling it "irresponsible" and "overblown". Professor Charlotte Wright, spokesman for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, told The Telegraph: "It is very puzzling that there is no mention of prevention of infection and there is a significant reduction on the risk of infection with breastfeeding."

She also makes the very valid point that many women who bottle-feed have chosen not to breastfeed rather than because they have problems doing so. Previous studies have linked breastfeeding with a reduced risk of serious illness such as heart disease and breast cancer in mothers, as well as fewer infections in babies.

But if, as Professor Carlsen says, breastfeeding has no discernible health benefit for the baby, should it not be a choice that the mother feels free to make without being pressured one way or another?