Latest - Academics at the University of York, including Dr Mary Renfrew, have written to the editor of the British Medical Journal questioning the evidence and research methodology underpinning such a widely-circulated article. Click here to read their letter.
SACN has also written to the BMJ outlining the evidence and the process it went through in making its recommendations. Click here to read.
An article published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) is being reported in the media as questioning whether exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months is appropriate for UK babies. This article is not based on new evidence but rather a re-analysis of older evidence, much of which is the same as that used as the basis for weaning recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UK’s Departments of Health (DH).
WHO recommended the introduction of solid food at around 6 months alongside continued breastfeeding in 2001. This was based on evidence that the early introduction of solid food to babies increased the risk of infection and disease. In 2003, DH also began to recommend introducing solids at ‘around 6 months’, changing from its previous position of ‘at 4-6 months’.The authors of the BMJ article question this recommendation for UK babies. The basis of their arguments is that delaying introducing solid food may increase the risk of iron deficiency anaemia (IDA), coeliac disease and food allergies, and that introducing new tastes may increase acceptance of green leafy vegetables and so encourage healthy eating later in life.
The Baby Friendly Initiative has written a statement dealing with these arguments that can be downloaded here.
The UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative supports continued research into improving infant health. However, any new research should then be considered as part of the whole body of evidence and any recommendations made should be based on the full evidence rather than on single papers.
It is unfortunate that the BMJ press office and the UK media have focused on a single piece of comment which has resulted in sensational headlines and risks misleading parents and damaging infant health.
The DH recommendation is that solid food be introduced at around six months. It is acknowledged that babies’ individual development varies widely and that some babies may be ready for solid food before and after this time. Since the introduction of this recommendation the number of babies experiencing the potentially harmful introduction to solid food before 4 months has reduced.
Health professionals should continue to support mothers with accurate information based on DH and WHO guidance, helping them to recognise the signs of when their baby may be ready to try new foods, while continuing to breastfeed.
Click here to download a full statement from UNICEF UK in response to these stories.