January 14th, 2011
Response to the suggestion in the news today (14 Jan 2011) that solid foods should be introduced from four months.
The British Medical Journal (BMJ) has published a paper suggesting that exclusive breastfeeding until six months may not be good for babies and that solid foods should be introduced between four and six months. What does this mean for parents who have been following baby-led weaning, and those who were planning to use this approach? A look at what is actually being said shows that the suggestion has little substance.
1. Firstly, this latest paper is based on a review of existing literature, not on new research. It is also worth bearing in mind that three of the four authors have worked closely with baby food/formula companies in recent years, and may be influenced by this.
2. The authors suggest that babies are at risk of iron deficiency anaemia and could be harmed if solids are delayed until six months.
The majority of fully breastfed babies under six months old are not at risk of iron deficiency anaemia – but the balance is a fine one. Most babies who begin solids early start on fruit or vegetables, which are low in iron, and take less breastmilk – which does contain iron. On the other hand; too much iron at a young age can be harmful because the baby’s immature gut may absorb more than he needs. The answer is to introduce solid foods when the baby is developmentally ready (i.e. when he starts to reach out for food, at around six months) and to make sure that he is offered foods rich in iron (such as red meat, eggs and pulses) from then on.
3. The authors suggest that the risk of coeliac disease and allergies is higher when solids are not introduced until six months.
Evidence for the risk of coeliac disease and allergies remains very unclear. It is possible that introducing solids earlier may benefit formula-fed babies more than breastfed babies.
4. The authors suggest that babies may refuse bitter foods if they don’t taste them before six months, and that this could have long-term health implications.
This is pure speculation, without any foundation. As anyone who has done baby-led weaning will know, the opposite is more likely to be true. The basis for the belief that babies over six months tend to refuse new flavours is research studies that used spoon feeding. Overwhelming anecdotal evidence suggests that babies allowed to handle food themselves (as with BLW) accept – and enjoy – a wide range of tastes. Also, breastfed babies experience different flavours in their milk from birth onwards and are more receptive to a variety of tastes once solid foods are introduced.
Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett, 14.01.11