When to start weaning: latest research

Weaning at four months or six months? We report on who's saying what...

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Since 2003, official government guidelines have stated that babies shouldn’t be introduced to solids until six months (ideally being exclusively breastfed before that time). But in 2011, a group of scientists proposed a change to the guidelines to suggest weaning from four months and no later than six months.

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So who’s saying what when it comes to weaning?

Who are they? A team of researchers from the University of Southampton

What do they think? In 2013, based on findings from a Food Standards Agency-funded study of 1140 infants, the researchers suggested that introducing solid food after 17 weeks, alongside breastfeeding, could help some babies develop a stronger immune system that might prevent them developing certain food allergies. The researchers were keen to stress, however, that introducing solids before 17 weeks could increase a baby’s risk of developing food allergies.

Who are they? A team of researchers from the University of London Institute of Child Health

What do they think? In 2011, based on a review of 33 separate studies, the scientists stated that there was no compelling evidence against introducing solids between four and six months. They also concluded that waiting until six months could increase the risk of iron-deficiency anaemia and food allergies – despite the long-standing theory that weaning at six months reduces the chances of allergies.

Who are they? The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition

What do they think? This government agency conducted an enquiry into the influence of infant nutrition on future health in 2011, and reached the conclusion that strategies that promote, protect and support exclusive breastfeeding for around the first six months of a baby’s life should be enhanced, and should recognise the benefits for long-term health.

Who are they? A group of scientists in Finland whose study appeared in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in 2013

What do they think? The researchers studied over 3000 children and found that while introducing certain cereals before four and a half months increased the risk of eczema, introducing wheat, rye, oats and barley cereals between five and five and a half months seemed to decrease the risk of asthma, allergic rhinitis and other allergies in childhood.

Who are they? The American Academy of Paediatrics

What do they think? The 2012 study found that introducing small amounts of solid foods, alongside breast milk, from four months led to babies having higher iron levels at six months than those who were exclusively breastfed until six months.

Who are they? The UK Department of Health

What do they think? Despite recent studies calling their current guidelines into question, the Department for Health has not changed its advice that babies should be weaned onto solids at around six months. However, a committee is reviewing the scientific evidence behind the guidelines, and will consider the need to update them. It’s expected that this will be complete in 2015. 

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Last updated: 21/11/13

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