Expressed milk? No, FedExpressed – just for Elton and David's baby

Singer's decision to fly-in mother's milk boosts the breastfeeding lobby

With two fathers, Zachary Furnish-John might have thought that a diet of infant formula beckoned. But Sir Elton John has emerged as an unlikely champion for nursing mothers after the singer revealed that he has breast milk specially flown in from the US to feed his four-month-old son.

Not just any breast milk either: the pop star's son drinks milk pumped by his surrogate mother and sent via FedEx to the planet's most famous two-dad household. Sir Elton, who became a father on Christmas Day aged 63, along with his 48-year-old partner David Furnish, disclosed Zachary's nutritional regime over the weekend on a US television show.

"She's been providing him with breast milk. We have the breast milk FedExed from where she is," he told the talkshow host Barbara Walters.

The disclosure is a shot in the arm for the breast milk lobby, which might have felt an all-male family was a lost cause. Nursing rates remain low in most developed countries despite government-backed attempts to bolster them. In the UK, only one-third of babies are exclusively breastfed at one week; that figure drops to 7 per cent by the time babies are four months old like Zachary. Most mothers turn instead to milk formula. The most recent figures, from 2005, show that more than half of all infants have had some formula by the time they are seven days old, with 53 per cent of babies fed exclusively on formula at some point between four and 10 weeks of age.

Sir Elton's revelation comes as new research asserts that dubious claims made by infant milk formula manufacturers are undermining breastfeeding and, in some cases, increasing anxieties for new parents. Many products, from follow-on formula to "hungry baby" milks, dupe mothers with unsubstantiated promises that are not backed up by scientific evidence, according to a draft report by the Caroline Walker Trust, which campaigns on nutritional issues.

This "medicalisation" of the infant feeding process is not only unnecessary but can also backfire by encouraging mothers to stop nursing, the report concludes. The proliferation of different types of formula holds out false hope to many parents, making them believe that different and expensive milks may help return their babies' feeding and digestive performance to "normal", inadvertently making them more worried when that does not happen. Encouraging parents to buy more expensive varieties of formula "that may offer no nutritional advantage" could come at the expense of food served to other family members.

The report blames the lack of independent information available about the nutritional composition of infant milks, which it says adds to the confusion for new parents, and calls on the Government to monitor the baby milk market more closely.

Helen Crawley, a nutrition lecturer at City University's Centre for Food Policy, who co-wrote the report, said: "Manufacturers can add anything they like to baby milk formulas provided it is within the regulations, but the regulations are quite flexible."

One contentious area concerns so-called good-night milks, which manufacturers allege help to settle babies at bedtime because they include added ingredients to thicken standard formulas – and keep babies' tummies fuller for longer. Yet the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, which provides independent guidance to the Department of Health, warned in 2008 that no published scientific evidence existed to support claims that good-night milks did settle babies better or had any nutritional advantages over the use of other formulas. Cow & Gate, which is owned by the French group Danone, withdrew its Good Night Milk after the warning, and HiPP Organic, the only other company to sell a version, changed its formulation.

A Department of Health spokeswoman declined to comment.

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