Today’s thoughts on experts and expertise come from Madeleine Morris, BBC journalist, author of Guilt-free Bottle Feeding and friend of Momma Data. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing her about the book and her insights into breastfeeding and bottle feeding. Check out that interview here if you haven’t already. Now I'm sharing her responses to the Momma Data Experteze Interview, the questions we all want to ask the experts but never do. Except here.
A mother and reporter, Madeleine has spent much time talking to, observing and analyzing the experts so get ready for her own expert insights – including a new phrase I can’t wait to use – the culture of expertism. In between relaying nuggets of wisdom she also manages to work in a legendary rock album by re-writing a classic Pink Floyd lyric for parents. Gonna borrow that too.
The Experteze Interview
What is an expert?
An expert is someone who has spent a considerable time studying the relevant subject matter, and who is interested in evidence, rather than ideology. An expert is not someone who has a modem and a viewpoint to promote, fuelled by some carefully culled ‘facts’ that support that viewpoint.
Who are the people you consider experts working in your field?
Suzanne Barston is certainly an expert in formula feeding, and also in feeding and parenting culture, as is Joan Wolf. My co-author Dr. Sasha Howard is certainly an expert on the comparative benefits of breast and formula-feeding, as well as in her specialised field of paediatric endocrinology. She found a gene. She’s very smart. Dr Michael Kramer of McGill University is an expert in breastfeeding, as is someone like Dr. Alison Stuebe. There are many expert lactation consultants, I just wish we had as many experts in helping parents to formula-feed. And every mother is an expert in her own baby - if only we would back our own expertise and knowledge in this area more.
What are the experts getting right?
Experts have greatly increased our knowledge about a great many things. It’s experts who taught us it’s not a good idea to smoke when pregnant, and experts who discovered minimizing your kid’s exposure to TV before the age of two is a good idea too. Finding new ways to improve outcomes is never a bad thing, especially when they are based on robust science.
What are the experts getting wrong?
MM: Having so many experts makes us think that if we just can harness the right expertise in the right doses we can produce the perfect child. This is not so much a function of the experts themselves, who likely have very many sensible things to say about their area of study, but the culture of expertism (if that’s a word).
What do you wish the media would ask you?
I wish they’d ask me on more shows so I can keep banging the drum that we need more support for bottle-feeding parents, and that bottle-fed kids can grow up to be happy, healthy and smart. But more importantly I wish they would ask public health bodies why they are so shit at supporting and educating bottle-feeding parents, and demand that they do better.
Is there too much parenting news and/or advice?
Yes! Lordy lord. I am going to write a new song that goes like this: “Hey! Experts! Leave those parents alone! (I realise the hypocrisy of saying this, having written a parenting book myself, but I do feel as though my book is in one area where we could do with more information and support.) It’s a function of so many things in society though - the breakdown of intergenerational family relationships, the ease of information sharing, competitive consumerism. And it’s not just parenting that is overwhelmed with experts. I don’t know what the solution is - just trying to tune out the noise as much as you can, I guess.
Has a new discovery about children ever truly surprised you?
I think lots about children is truly remarkable, but I can’t think of a scientific discovery that has truly surprised me of late. The adaptability and genuine altruism of children is one of the most surprising things I find about them (though I don’t think that’s what you’re asking).
Did you breastfeed? Did your child receive breastmilk? If so, for how long?
MM: I did breastfeed - exclusively for one week, then brought in formula so my child didn’t starve to death. We continued mixed-feeding for about seven weeks until I realised that as she grew the proportion of nutrition was getting from me was getting smaller, as my milk production wasn’t increasing in line with her growth. (I had had a breast reduction so this isn’t surprising). I got tired of spending more time with my breast pump than my baby in my quest for a never-increasing supply, so I shut down the boobs, shed a little tear, told my daughter it didn’t mean I loved her any less and we’ve never looked back.
Where do you get your parenting/child health news?
Mostly via friends posting on Facebook. I read books sometimes (the latest is about technology and its effect on family life. It’s terrifying). But honestly, now my daughter is three I’m generally learning by doing. I trust myself and my husband to make reasonable decisions based on common sense. I also work full-time in a very full-on job, so don’t have a lot of spare time to be reading anything at all much, sadly.
Parenting Style: Wannabe-free-range-with-lots-of-cuddles-and-a-touch-of-the-overparenting.
Many thanks, Madeleine!
Grab her book, Guilt-free Bottlefeeding. Read it or gift wrap it for your lactating friends or those who plan on it or have ever tried, thought about it or never wanted to do it – in other words just about any woman.