Weaning earlier could benefit babies, claims new study
Current guidance advising mothers in the UK to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of their baby's life is being questioned in a new study.
Researchers say that while they fully back exclusive breastfeeding early in life, they feel that exclusively doing so for the first six months and not introducing other foods may not be in the child's best interests.
The authors, led by Dr Mary Fewtrell, a consultant paediatrician at the UCL Institute of Child Health, London, claim babies who are weaned before six months could benefit.
In 2001, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended that babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months.
Many western countries did not follow this recommendation, but the UK said it would comply with it.
Dr Fewtrell supports the recommendation for six months exclusive breastfeeding in less developed countries where access to clean water and safe weaning foods is limited and there is a high risk of infant death and illness.
But she has reservations about whether the WHO's guidance about when to introduce others foods is right for the UK.
She claims that the evidence that breast milk alone provides sufficient nutrition for six months is questionable.
''There is a higher risk of iron deficiency anaemia if babies are exclusively breastfed and that there could also be a higher incidence of coeliac disease and food allergies if children are not introduced to certain solid foods before six months.
Researchers also fear that prolonged exclusive breastfeeding may reduce the window for introducing new tastes, particularly bitter taste which may be important in the later acceptance of green leafy vegetables.
This could encourage unhealthy eating in later life and lead to obesity, they claim.
The new study comes at a time when the Government has outlined plans in a White Paper on Public Health to encourage employers to implement breastfeeding-friendly policies to help mums returning to work.