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Row over six months breast-feed target

Friday January 14th, 2011

Breastfeeding babies exclusively for six months may “not always be in the child’s best interests”, it has been claimed.

Dr Mary Fewtrell, a consultant paediatrician at the UCL Institute of Child Health in London, urged guidance to be reviewed.

Writing on-line for the British Medical Journal, she claims exclusive breastfeeding for six months puts children at increased risk of iron deficiency anaemia, coeliac disease and food allergies if they were not introduced to certain solid foods before six months.

Prolonged exclusive breastfeeding may also reduce the opportunities for introducing new tastes, particularly bitter ones, such as green leafy vegetables. This could encourage unhealthy eating in later life and lead to obesity, she writes.

But the claims angered midwives, who said they would undermine efforts to get mothers to breast-feed.

They accused Dr Fewtrell of playing into the hands of the baby milk industry.

Janet Fyle, of the Royal College of Midwives, said: "I believe that this is a retrograde step and plays into the hands of the baby food industry which has failed to support the six month exclusive breastfeeding policy in the UK.

She said there was "irrefutable evidence that breast milk confers many health benefits on the baby that lasts a lifetime.

"The six month policy brings with it some positive benefits, because those mothers who may have breast-fed for two months under the old four month policy are more likely to breastfeed for much longer."

In 2001 the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended that infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months.

Although many western countries did not follow the advice, the UK announced in 2003 that it would comply.

Dr Fewtrell and colleagues said while they supported the recommendation for nursing mothers in less developed countries where access to clean water and safe weaning foods is limited and there is a high risk of infant death and illness, they had reservations about its suitability for the UK.

They called for the UK guidance to be reviewed in the light of the evidence that has built up on this issue over the last ten years.

British Medical Journal on-line January 14 2011

Tags: Child Health | Childbirth and Pregnancy | Diet & Food | Nursing & Midwifery | UK News | Women’s Health & Gynaecology

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