Three weeks ago Zoe Williams wrote a piece in The Guardian on her opinions of breastfeeding and routines for babies. We weren't comfortable with the piece because it made several factual errors, and we wrote to The Guardian in response. Our letter wasn't printed, but we'd like to make it public so you can read it. It's worth noting that Kate Evans penned an excellent follow-up also for The Guardian, which you can read here.

This is the letter from Best Beginnings:

Dear Sir/Madam

We are writing to you from Best Beginnings, the child health charity committed to working collaboratively and informed by evidence to help reduce health inequalities in the UK.

We are deeply concerned that in Zoe Williams' article "Welcome to Parenthood" (G2, June 29), she suggested that the promotion of breastfeeding in this country is based on misleading information. In fact, Ms Williams’ article itself contains errors and misinformation.

Both international and national evidence is now incontrovertible – babies who are not breastfed are more likely to develop a range of short, medium and long-term health problems including early respiratory infections, gastrointestinal illness, type 2 diabetes, higher blood pressure and total cholesterol (Howe et al 1990; Horta et al 2007; Ip 2007; Quigley et al 2007), and their mothers will have an increased risk of breast cancer and gallbladder disease (Collaborative Group 2002; Liu 2009).

In addition to these very well founded health benefits, and as Ms Williams herself says, millions of women find breastfeeding an enjoyable experience, good for both them and their baby. Indeed, further research shows a positive relationship between parenting, attachment and breastfeeding, particularly in families with health inequalities (Gutman et al 2009).

The challenge is to enable women to breastfeed in a culture that is not supportive. Many people – particularly from low income communities where breastfeeding rates are low – have little experience of seeing family and friends breastfeed, making it unfamiliar and less acceptable to them when they decide how to feed their own children.

One of the problems, as Ms Williams highlights, is the relationship between breastfeeding and attitudes to sexuality. As a result some women and men have conflicting feelings about the notion of breastfeeding, and women often feel exposed and embarrassed when feeding their baby in public.

Some key changes will make all the difference including improved training and education about breastfeeding for all health professionals, limiting the marketing of infant formula, and offering women information about breastfeeding and how to access the support they need. These changes will help ensure that all women can make choices about how to feed their babies and have a positive breastfeeding experience. Best Beginnings is working towards these changes as part of the charity's remit to help give all UK babies the healthiest start in life.

Babies' health is a real issue in this country and not just – as Ms Williams suggests – in other 'countries where they might not even have an assured water supply, sterilising equipment or electricity'. It is an alarming fact that the infant mortality rate in the poorest parts of the Midlands is six times greater than in affluent parts of Hampshire (DH, 2007).

We welcome a healthy and open discussion about infant feeding and all topics surrounding child-rearing, many of which are so hotly debated by parents across the UK. By understanding the evidence for why breastfeeding matters with support from health workers, the wider public and the media, new parents across the UK can make an informed decision about how they can make a real difference to their child's health.

For more information about Best Beginnings please visit the charity's website.

Yours sincerely,

Prof. Mary Renfrew, Professor of Mother and Infant Health, York University and Trustee of Best Beginnings

Dr Judith Meek, Consultant Neonatologist, UCLH and Trustee of Best Beginnings

Janet Fyle, Professional Policy Adviser, Royal College of Midwives and Trustee of Best Beginnings

Alison Baum, CEO Best Beginnings