Breast milk alone lacks sufficient nutrition for babies
BREASTFEEDING exclusively for six months is not necessarily best and may put babies off some foods, experts said yesterday.
Most countries recommend women breastfeed for the first six months of a baby's life before introducing solids.
But now experts at 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 (WHO) announced a global recommendation that infants should be exclusively breastfed for six months.
"Many western countries elected not to follow this recommendation fully, or at all," the experts said. "However, in 2003, the health minister announced that the United Kingdom would comply."
The WHO recommendation "rested largely" on a review of 16 studies, including seven from developing countries.
It concluded that 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" not to introduce solids at four to six months.
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 that 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 western countries it could lead to adverse health outcomes and may "reduce the window for introducing new tastes".
"Bitter tastes, in particular, may be important in the later acceptance of green leafy vegetables, which may potentially affect later food preferences with influence on health outcomes such as obesity."
The researchers said the European Food Safety Authority's panel on dietetic products, nutrition and allergies has concluded that for infants across the EU, complementary foods may be introduced safely between four to six months.
The EU panel also said six months of exclusive breastfeeding may not always provide sufficient nutrition for "optimal growth and development".