Red Nose Day is back. From wherever it is that Telethon and other such institutions go to rest, Red Nose Day has been resurrected. Like the new Telethon it was naff, but then the original wasn’t that great either.
Last week’s Red Nose Day was to raise money for various childhood illnesses, presumably because cot death, the old cause, has gone thoroughly out of fashion. Having changed its name to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome no one knew what it was anymore, and we all promptly forgot that we cared.
Like any expired fashion, it still has a handful of holdouts. Breastfeeding zealots continue to use the fear of cot death to shove their agenda.
Before my daughter was born we went to an ante-natal class. We were informed by the ‘facilitator,’ whose enthusiasm outweighed her knowledge, that babies who were fed infant formula and whose parents smoked had a 75% risk of death.
“But that’s basically murder,” gasped one of my classmates.
“Yes,” said the facilitator seriously.
I was less credulous: “Are you completely fucking insane? Are you sure it’s not 0.75%? Or 75% higher than the base risk - as in the risk goes from five-eighths of bugger all to bugger all?”
“No, not at all,” she said seriously.
“Where did that number come from?” I asked incredulously.
“The Ministry of Health,” she said seriously.
“Did you read it right?” I asked incredulously.
“Of course,” she said seriously.
“Don’t you think the number’s a bit high? Come on - I mean, when Hiroshima was bombed 160,000 people were killed out of a population of 300,000. That’s a 55% death rate. Do you honestly believe that being fed infant formula is more dangerous than being attacked with nuclear weapons?
“The death rate amongst European Jews during the Holocaust was 70%. Do you really believe that being a baby who lives with smokers is more dangerous than being a Jew who lives with Nazis?”
Even those without my shining ability to combine maths and swearing knew that something wasn’t right. Most of us had grown up in the seventies and if the smoking and infant formula data was right, 75% of us shouldn’t have been there. The real number is less than a thousandth of that figure. But it does have a five in it.
The problem goes much further than gross innumeracy. Lots of new mothers are made to feel terrible for not breastfeeding. Some babies won’t latch on properly. For some mothers it’s too painful. Some breasts only serve up green-label milk when babies really want gold top.
An expensive Ministry of Health advertising campaign is currently nagging mothers as they wander round shopping malls and watch crap television. Of course, it’s not the first government department ad campaign encouraging more people to get on the tit. Advertising and media companies must be awed by Nanny’s bounty.
The Ministry’s propaganda team are backed up by legions of do-gooders who put on their pretending-to-help voices and persecute women who can’t, or - the horror - choose not to breastfeed.
Sadly, many women have a cognitive affliction that makes them take notice of other people’s opinions. There’s really no need. The only parenting advice I would ever give is: Run as fast as you can away from anyone who gives parenting advice.
Oh, except one thing: I’m no epidemiologist but if you happen to be grossly fat don’t put your baby in your own bed and then get so drunk you can’t tell if you’re rolling on top of him. Just saying.
* * Bernard Darnton’s NOT PJ column appears every Thursday here at NOT PC * *