Posted by Lucy on 14-01-2011
It was interesting to listen to the debate happening on BBC Breakfast today regarding the best time to start infant weaning. The Department of Health and World Health Organisation guidelines have repeatedly told parent s that breast is best for the first 6 months of the childís life and that no solids should be introduced. As evidenced on the WHO website http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/exclusive_breastfeeding/en/
Guidelines can only ever be set on the best available evidence at that time and are always liable to change should new information come out. So, is that the case? Has new evidence emerged to suggest that exclusive breast/formula feeding for 6 months does more harm than good? Well, yes and no......
Today an article published in British Medical Journal http://www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.c5955.full recognised the flaws in the systematic review which underpinned that advice. Exclusive breastfeeding is certainly the preferred option in developing countries where access to nutritionally adequate diets once weaned is poor. But is it the same for the west? There has been some emerging evidence over the past 2 years regarding the potential for an increased risk of allergy where exclusive breastfeeding is carried out for the full six months. In addition, once a child starts getting towards the six month point, certain nutrients in breastmilk such as iron become inadequate so without progressing through the weaning stages quickly, the child could develop iron-deficiency anaemia. Taste and texture development through earlier exposure could also relate to adult food choices and potentially reduce the risk of obesity later in life.
However, the research is still emerging and certainly not yet conclusive. And without a solid evidence base, it is unlikely that national or international guidelines willl change.
There are two things to take from this debate. The first is the importance not to confuse exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months with the benefits of breastfeeding full stop. We are simply debating at what point some solids should be introduced alongside. The benefits of breastfeeding are unrivalled, for both the infant and mother.
The second thing to take from this is the importance to recognise infants at individuals. There are many signs which help to indicate when your infant might be ready to take solids and we discuss these in detail in our Baby Chef DVD. Beginning solids anywhere between 4-6 months may be appropriate for your child and your health visitor should be able to give you some more hints and tips on this.
Hope this helps shed some light on this ever confusing issue. Send any queries my way and Iíll do by best to answer them.