11 Feb

My complaint to the BBC

Dear BBC

I wish to raise a complaint with regard to the choice of Clare Byam-Cook, who was represented as a “breastfeeding expert,” a “breastfeeding counsellor,” and a “lactation consultant” on Woman’s Hour on Monday morning. With respect, she is none of these things, and I am deeply unimpressed that BBC researchers were unaware of this, despite complaints every single time she appears.

The information given out by Byam-Cook about tongue tie, milk supply, and the baby’s latch at the breast were fundamentally incorrect. Since the purpose of this piece was to explore the reasons why women feel unsupported and do not breastfeed for long in the UK, I am surprised that this misinformation was perpetuated without comment. This is negligent of the BBC.

Byam-Cook was also allowed to talk about her video and book, and mention that she is available for private consultations. I understood that the BBC was required to adhere to certain standards about allowing advertising. If this had been advertised on ITV I would be making a complaint to the ASA, since her book contains many factual errors that would undermine the breastfeeding experience of most women.

Please do not bother to send me your standard response, as I have read it. I take issue with the statement that ” Unlike other breast feeding counsellors, she doesn’t believe that breastfeeding is the be all and end all.” As a Breastfeeding Counsellor, I am very well aware that breastfeeding is one part of the complex experience of becoming a parent, and I have supported parents in many different situations, making many different decisions. The word “counsellor” should convey to you that we listen and support individual mothers, without an agenda. Nonetheless, breastfeeding is an important public health issue, as shown in last week’s article in the Lancet; and the BBC has a responsibility to give out correct factual information, as well as the helpline numbers from the four reputable organisations whose counsellors are trained to support women in an evidence-based, parent-centred way.

Kind regards
Karen Hall

9 thoughts on “My complaint to the BBC

  1. Spot on Karen. Even NICE recognise the 4 reputable organisations and the professionalism and rigour they bring to breastfeed support services. Who is supervising Ms Byam-Cook?

  2. Spot on Karen! I can only imagine that this charletan has some very powerful friends at the BBC. Either that, or Ms Buy-My-Book is so lacking in clients she is always available at short notice when the media need someone to talk about ‘that’ subject. The rest of us REAL breastfeeding counsellors are busy, you know, actually helping people in a skilled, evidence-based manner!

  3. Absolutely agree, Karen. How the BBC can’t see the irony in this, I do not know!
    Breastfeeding mothers need skilled support and evidence based information. She is no longer a registered midwife and doesn’t mention any additional training she has had so I am always so confused as to why she is asked to speak as an ‘expert m’ especially one that undermines breastfeeding and provides incorrect information. Celebrity endorsements mean nothing to mean, she clearly has bi ingenuity in her work and fails to recognize the damage she causes. So often the real breastfeeding counsellors who volunteer hours upon hours of time for free are left to pick up the pieces for mothers who have read books full of made up ‘tips’ with no actual evidence to back them up. Parents deserve so much more than this! Thank you Karen- you always speak the truth! PS loving sprogcast long may it continue!

  4. Thank you so much for writing this, it articulates perfectly everything I felt but don’t quite have the expertise to articulate. I think it was like asking Eammon Holmes in as an expert on how to resolve conflict in the Middle East. Thoughtless and potentially very damaging.

  5. Thank you so much for taking the time to send this calm intelligent letter to WH. Did you get a reply?
    I just shouted at the radio and then turned it off in disgust. Your response was sooo much better. I’m inspired now to sit down, compose myself, and write something similar.

  6. Just to clarify, I did send this in to the BBC on their official complaint form. I haven’t heard anything yet. I don’t expect to change the world.

  7. Dear Ms Hall

    Reference CAS-3701313-JRHKML

    Thank you for contacting us about Woman’s Hour with your concerns over our breastfeeding item.

    In this programme we were keen to explore why the UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. We didn’t set out to make any kind of judgement about the choices women make about how they feed their babies. Every parent has a story to tell and we were determined to reflect the experiences of as many people as possible.

    The studio guests were Professor Hoddinot (Chair of Primary Care at University of Stirling and a former GP in the East End of London and Aberdeen) and Clare Byam Cook. Professor Hoddinot made clear in the programme that a large body of research points to the benefits of breastfeeding over formula feeding. Clare Byam Cook explained her technique of providing advice for women who choose to breast feed and put forward her opinion that she also found formula and mixed feeding to be suitable alternatives.

    We included a wide range of opinions from callers including a breast feeding consultant from La Leche League who was able to say why she was so in favour of breastfeeding and its value to infants. We also followed up the following day with feedback from our listeners to the phone in programme.

    We understand you were unhappy with our choice of Clare Byam Cook as a studio guest, but we felt she offered an interesting perspective on this topic. We understand that breast/bottle feeding is a topic that provokes very strong opinions and our intention was to present a range of those opinions.

    We hope this has helped to answer your concerns, and thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

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