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Weaning at six months may be too late, say scientists

In direct opposition to Government guidelines, a new report suggests that babies should be weaned from four months - not six

Posted: 14 January 2011
by Susie Boone
weaning baby
Does mum know best? When is the right time to start weaning your baby?

A new report from leading scientists has caused controversy among experts and left mums baffled.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, directly contradicts current Department of Health guidelines, which clearly states starting weaning at six months.

The new research, carried out by three UK universities, advises that waiting until six months can increase the likelihood of a child developing allergies and having low iron levels.

In 2003, the Government introduced new recommendations (based on WHO guidelines) - that babies should not be weaned before six months. This was a major change to previous advice, which had recommended starting at four months.

Now we face a potential U-turn, which puts mums in the frustrating position of wondering whose advice is right.

So what does the report actually recommend?

Leader of the research, Dr Mary Fewtrell who is a paediatrician from the University of London Institute of Child Health, advises that mums shouldn't feel they have to wait until their baby is six months before introducing solids.

Instead, the advice is to look out for signs that your baby is ready, and as long as you've reached the four month stage, launch in with the solids.

What do they say is wrong with waiting until six months?

The scientists raise two main concerns in their research:

  • Allergies - The report suggests that waiting until six months can increase the likelihood of a child developing certain allergies. Whereas the DoH currently advises that waiting until six months decreases the risk of developing allergies.
  • Low iron levels – Holding off until six months can increase the risk of your baby having low levels of iron, leading to anaemia.

Babies are born with six months’ supply of iron, but that after this time they need to absorb iron from their diet and breastmilk alone can not supply enough iron content.

By starting weaning at six months, the risk is that it may take some mums a while to reach the stage where they’re giving their baby iron-rich foods (most mums will start with baby rice and simple fruits and vegetables). This could mean a baby isn't getting enough iron, during important developmental growth.

How does this affect breastfeeding?

It doesn't - and no one is saying stop breastfeeding. The scientists are careful to stress that breastfeeding is the healthiest option for feeding your baby, and recommend exclusive breastfeeding until at least four months. There's also no reason to stop breastfeeding after you start weaning.

As you slowly increase the volume of solid food, your baby will naturally cut down the amount of milk he drinks. However, you can supplement the milk he’s taking from breastfeeds by adding expressed milk into some of the meals.

What's been the reaction to the reports?

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has criticised the report, along with the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Janet Fyle, professional policy adviser at the RCM, stated, "I really must challenge the suggestion that the UK should reconsider its current advice on exclusive breastfeeding for six months.

"I believe that this is a retrograde step and plays into the hands of the baby-food industry which has failed to support the six-month exclusive breastfeeding policy in the UK.

The Department of Health is currently sticking to its advice to wait until six months.

"Breast milk provides all the nutrients a baby needs up to six months of age and we recommend exclusive breastfeeding for this time,” explained a DoH spokesperson.

"Mothers who wish to introduce solids before six months should always talk to health professionals first."

However, the DoH also announced that it has asked a panel of scientists to consider all the evidence, including these new findings, and a report will be produced later this year.

Still confused?

The main thing is not to feel concerned if you weaned your little one at six months or at four months or somewhere in between. The best message is that mums should trust their own instincts. Don't be influenced by whether your friends are starting to wean their babies. Take it at your baby's pace, introduce new foods slowly and look out for any adverse reactions. Also, whether your baby is four months or six months, make sure you're always with her when she's eating.

Finally, if you're unsure when to start, talk to your GP or health visitor who will be able to advise you.

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weaning, baby, WHO, Royal College of Midwives, feeding, four months, six months

Discuss this story

What about bottle fed babies ????? All this is aimed at breastfed babies.

Posted: 15/01/2011 at 00:37

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