21 Jun

Book review: The Importance of Dads and Grandmas to the Breastfeeding Mother, by Wendy Jones

I would consider Dr Wendy Jones to be one of the most trustworthy resources on breastfeeding in the UK, particularly in her specialist area of breastfeeding and medication. This is a general book about breastfeeding, aimed at fathers and grandmothers. The dad-focus is on how to help (and a little bit of how not to) given that fathers may not fully appreciate the importance of their role to start with; and the granny-focus is on reframing some of the older generation’s expectations and preconceptions, given that they may have done things differently themselves.

Jones lays out the rationale for her advice, with a detailed explanation of what breastmilk is and how breastfeeding works. Each chapter includes a summary of take home messages, and she covers many “But what if…?” scenarios. Well-referenced, with a decent index and a list of helplines, this could be a very useful book. It’s worth pointing out that it covers formula feeding, sterilising equipment, and expressing in some detail too.

My small criticisms would be that the pictures are often small and unhelpful (although there are many good diagrams and tables of information), and being in black and white they are not at all useful for illustrating the colours of newborn poo or changes to a nipple after feeding. I disagree with Jones’ description of colic as pain/wind, when so many authoritative sources, including the NHS, define it as unexplained crying. Perhaps it is difficult to take the pharmacist hat off altogether.

Where Jones does take the pharmacist hat off, however, is in her friendly personal tone, and in the “bonus feature” of her own story about supporting her daughters with breastfeeding, which is fascinating and moving.

This is a book I will keep to hand as a good source of reliable information, and I would widely recommend it to breastfeeding supporters, and of course to Dads and Grandmas.

[Disclaimer: Wendy sent me a free review copy of her book – thank you! We had a chat with her on Sprogcast a little while ago; listen here]

20 Jun

Book Review: Why Starting Solids Matters, by Amy Brown

The subject of starting solids divides parents into those who trust their instincts and those who do not. Those who trust their instincts will enjoy this book, which offers evidence to help them make decisions; but they won’t need it. Those who do not, will find it insufficiently instructional. This is the eternal dilemma of the subject, and Amy Brown recognises that.

This is not a manual for introducing solids. It’s a really good resource, though, for anyone supporting parents in either state of mind. It is a sensible, well-researched little book, casting no moral judgement on any of the different options, even as it sets out the compelling arguments for waiting until around 6 months, and enabling babies to self-feed.

Why Starting Solids Matters gives us an interesting history of infant feeding, which lays foundations for the following chapters. It acknowledges the sparsity of good evidence around allergies, and really makes its point about the importance, above all else, of responsive feeding.

Closing with a ten-step summary and a long list of resources, and thoroughly referenced, Why Starting Solids Matters ticks all my boxes for a thoroughly useful book. I fervently hope that it will be as widely read as it deserves.

[Disclaimer: The publishers sent me a free review copy. You can buy it from their website, and get 10% discount with the code SPROGCAST]

09 Jun

Book Review: The Happy Birth Book, by Beverley Turner with Pam Wild

Beverley Turner’s Happy Birth Book was originally conceived as a handbook for people attending her high-end antenatal courses, and covers a huge range of topics in alphabetical order, so that readers may dip in or look up the thing they’re interested in. Hitting the same market at the same time as Clemmie Hooper (and with a matching cover image) and Milli Hill, Turner’s book lands somewhere between the two, closer in tone to Hooper, but in content to Hill. All three focus on active birth, but while Clemmie digresses into shopping lists, Milli and Bev are both encouraging women to get informed and assert their rights in the birthplace.

The Happy Birth Book is good for instructive diagrams, pithy descriptions (she’s especially good on labour), and a few moments of truly gritty realism which made me laugh out loud. There is a lot of ‘Bev’ and therefore a lot of opinion, and rather too much alternative therapy for my personal taste. I wasn’t too impressed by the breastfeeding information, which tends to give the impression that babies can be fed on a regular timetable, that mothers should eat well to maintain a good milk supply, and that breasts need time to fill up between feeds, none of which is scientifically accurate.

The A-Z approach doesn’t feel to me like the most intuitive way to organise the subject matter, and certainly going from skincare to stillbirth to stretch marks is a bit of a bumpy ride. On the other hand, it does make it – as intended – a book you can dip in and out of, and have to hand for extra information as needed. With its cheery, direct tone, it’s a good alternative for readers who might find the more comprehensive Positive Birth Book a bit too dense, and definitely more empowering than most of the mainstream birth books out there.

[Disclaimer: I was sent a free review copy by the author, and also had a lovely chat with her for the July episode of Sprogcast]

06 Jun

Book Review: Breastfeeding Made Easy, by Carlos Gonzales

Carlos Gonzales writes as though he is giving a TED talk. In places, his stridency is amusing; but mostly it is just strident. I cannot tell if it would come across the same way in the original Spanish, or if this is a tonal quirk of the translation, but I did experience the same sense of being exhorted to follow his well-argued directions in his earlier books, and for this reason I would be very unlikely to share them with parents.

Breastfeeding Made Easy is a dense book filled with much confusing detail, and is quite outdated. For example, on p53 he discusses “foremilk and hindmilk,” a concept from which most breastfeeding authorities have moved on. Gonzales is, furthermore, highly prescriptive in his approach to positioning and attachment, and there is no mention at all of laid-back breastfeeding. He makes several sweeping statements that many parents would rightly disagree with. Here’s one:

breastfeeding stops being an issue when the baby starts eating solids (p84)

To which I say: hm, define “issue.”

The book also swings from exhaustively detailed advice such as that given on maternal diet (which in fact has very little impact on milk quantity or composition), to peculiar inclusions in the list of maternal conditions that may affect breastfeeding such as myopia – which, obviously, doesn’t affect it at all.

There are far more useful breastfeeding books available; this one is little more than an eyebrow-raising curiosity.

[Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book by the publishers Pinter & Martin]

05 Jun

Book Review: The Sensational Baby Sleep Plan – Alison Scott-Wright

I have come across this book a few times, and eventually someone gave me a copy so that I could read it cover to cover at my leisure. Having flicked first to the breastfeeding section and read the advice not to drink champagne lest it give the baby wind, I was tempted to drop it straight in the bin. But no, I persisted, so that you don’t ever have to.

Alison Scott-Wright is very much from the same school as Clare Byam-Cook, whose awful book she recommends; and really you don’t need to know much more than that. If you consider your baby to be a time-consuming, manipulative bore with no feelings, the Plan will suit you just fine. However if you wish to meet your tiny human’s needs following your parental instincts and the best available evidence, and your well-meaning aunt has given you a copy of this book, perhaps treat it as a “how not to parent a baby” guide.

Feel free, in the latter case, to ignore ASW’s basic premise that breastfeeding is really too difficult to bother with; a position that must be continually supported with anecdata from clients having trouble getting breastfeeding to work under the rules she prescribes. Feel free not to ensure your legs are at a 90 degree angle to your body (p41), not to restrict feeds to 3-hourly as soon as possible (p43), not to express five times in 24 hours in addition to breastfeeding on demand (p46), and take with a huge pinch of salt that breastmilk may be made unnatural and impure by environmental pollution. Amuse yourself instead with the mental image of cows living in clinical conditions, wearing nappies and using the finest organic antibacterial gel on their udders at milking time. Should you decide to use formula, please please disregard her instructions for making up bottles in advance, which is in direct opposition to evidence-based guidance from the NHS.

None of her terrible advice about feeding has very much to do with sleep, so let us move on to ignoring what she says about that. ASW likes to cherry-pick the research and twist it to fit her entrenched opinions. So for example she quotes Sue Gerhardt on early emotional development and uses this to argue in favour of her cruel and neglectful plan. If she had read more than the back cover of Why Love Matters, she would find herself in the uncomfortable position of having to reflect on how damaging her advice must be.

ASW does not, however, make any reference at all to the UK’s foremost authority on infant sleep, the work of Professor Helen Ball and Doctor Charlotte Russell at the Durham Infant Sleep Lab, where they undertake rigorous research and provide useful evidence-based information to support parents. And for this reason, the reader may also be at liberty to ignore the “baby’s daily sleep requirements” (p72), fully debunked by Charlotte Russell on Sprogcast last year. On p80, ASW dangerously disagrees with current safe sleeping guidelines, overruling the Back To Sleep campaign on the basis that she tends to believe that the babies for whom her plan does not work must surely have reflux; and also ignoring the increased risk of SIDS for a baby sleeping in their own room before the age of six months. It would also be absolutely acceptable to take no notice whatsoever of her claim that she “often advises introducing solids… from 16 weeks,” (p85) or her recommendation that parents water down formula or limit breastfeeds at night as early as 4 weeks, thereby depriving the baby of essential nutrients and comfort – surely a far more serious risk to the child’s physical and emotional wellbeing than that posed by sleep deprivation.

All parents can definitely disregard the long parent-blaming list of ways they can get their babies’ sleep wrong on p155; and unless the baby has a medical diagnosis of reflux, they can also take no notice of the 50 pages devoted to that subject. In fact, even with such a diagnosis, it might be wise to ignore the unqualified ASW’s unqualified opinions on this matter, and seek the support of a trained specialist.

ASW’s promise is that if you follow her “flexible” plan TO THE LETTER, then your baby will sleep through the night by 8 weeks. She has had 100% success with this. The only reasons why this incredible plan might not work are if the baby has reflux, or if the parents have been doing it wrong. Even teething “should not be used as an excuse” (p92). But never fear, silly parents, if you have got yourself into such a “hopeless situation” (p157), there is still hope! You can adopt her cosily-named “sleepy time” reassurance technique (p170) which is basically leaving the baby to cry, even if they “vomit to order” (p193).

This sleep is indeed sensational: sensationally cruel, ill-informed, and quite possibly harmful. I do not recommend this book.