In the news: Breastfeeding

Is breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months best for your baby after all?

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If you have a young baby, your health visitor will be strongly advising you to feed him milk exclusively for the first six months. This has been the recommendation of the Department of Health since 2003, who deemed it the healthiest start for babies. But now a leading paediatrician from University College London’s Institute of Child Health claims the delay of weaning may actually increase the risk of allergies and iron deficiency in babies.

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The new study in the British Medical Journal says Swedish research links problems with tolerating gluten to a delay in eating it until six months. In addition, they say it could deter children from healthy eating foods with more bitter tastes, potentially fuelling a rise in obesity.

So what’s a new mum to think? Before 2003, parents were advised to wean at four to six months, advice that was then changed to reflect the ‘milk feeds exclusively until six months’ message. Lots of mums still feel confused about how to give their babies the healthiest start. And just as the ‘six months…’ message begins to sink in, here is another piece of substantial and contradictory research.

Prima Baby & Pregnancy’s midwife Nikki Khan says: mums should stick to exclusive milk-feeding for the first six months.

“There’s a reason why we advocate feeding babies only milk for six months’ she says. ‘Primarily, it’s to build up a baby’s immune system and to protect them from bugs like diarrhea and vomiting. The very nature of weaning means that babies are getting less milk because they’re filling up on solids, even if it’s just a few spoonfuls to start with. But because their digestive systems are still very developing, they are unable to take the nutrients they need from solid food – and with a reduced milk supply, they’re not getting vital nourishment that way, either. Babies under six months old are particularly vulnerable to this. Even when a baby starts to be weaned at six months, a proportion of their nutrients still have to come from milk for them to be healthy. My concern would be that babies who are weaned early may be more at risk of bugs, they may not get all the milk they need which is their primary source of nutrition, and they can choke”

Nikki’s advice would be to stick to the Department of Health guidelines and continue feeding milk exclusively until your baby is at least six months old.

Need help breastfeeding? Check out our Breastfeeding clinic

Not all mums find breastfeeding easy. If you’ve chosen the bottle feeding route we’ve got plenty of advice…

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