Breast milk-only diet ‘not best for babies’

BREASTFEEDING exclusively for six months is not necessarily best and may put babies off some foods, a new study has found.

International guidelines are for women to breastfeed for the first six months of a baby’s life before introducing solids.

But now experts, led by a paediatrician from University College London’s Institute of Child Health, say babies could suffer iron deficiency and may be more prone to allergies if they only receive breast milk.

In 2001, the World Health Organisation announced a global recommendation that infants should be exclusively breastfed for six months.

“Many western countries, including 65% of European member states and the United States, elected not to follow this recommendation fully, or at all,” the authors said.

The World Health Organisation recommendation “rested largely” on a review of 16 studies, including seven from developing countries.

It concluded babies just given breast milk for six months had fewer infections and experienced no growth problems. But, another review of 33 studies found “no compelling evidence” to not introduce solids at four to six months, the experts said.

Some studies have also shown that breastfeeding for six months does not give babies all the nutrition they need.

One US study from 2007 found that babies exclusively breastfed for six months were more likely to develop anaemia than those introduced to solids at four to six months.

There is also the issue of allergies, the experts said.

Researchers in Sweden also found the incidence of early onset coeliac disease increased after a recommendation to delay introduction of gluten until age six months, “and it fell to previous levels after the recommendation reverted to four months.”

The authors said exclusively breastfeeding for six months is a good recommendation for developing countries, which have higher death rates from infection.

But in developed countries it could lead to some adverse health outcomes and may “reduce the window for introducing new tastes.”


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