In 2001 the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that exclusive breastfeeding for six months is best for babies. But now a team of researchers from the UK say this advice might not be correct. As reported in the British Medical Journalon January 14, 2011, doctors from several leading child health institutes now say that not introducing babies to solids before 6 months of age could very well do more harm than good.
What's the problem? Experts point to research that holding off on solid foods until after the half-year mark may lead to a higher incidence of celiac disease and food allergies—some studies show that introducing gluten-containing foods before 3 months ups risk for celiac disease, but delaying solids until after 6 months can also boost risk.
Another concern shared in the report is that prolonged exclusive breastfeeding may reduce the window for introducing new tastes, particularly bitter taste which may be important in the later acceptance of green leafy vegetables. This could encourage unhealthy eating in later life and lead to obesity.
Breastfeeding has so many proven benefits for babies, so why the beef? Experts say they simply want to point out that while the World Health Organization's guidance makes sense in developing nations (where access to clean water and safe weaning foods is a problem, and there is a high risk of infections, illness, and death), in the UK and other developed countries, including the US and Canada, other issues may need to be taken into consideration when coming up with breastfeeding guidelines.
But experts also say all their concerns may be vain. Despite current WHO recommendations, researchers estimate that fewer than 1 percent of babies in the UK continue are exclusively breastfed until 6 months.