Janet Fyle, Professional Policy Advisor at the Royal College of Midwives, challenges the findings of a new report, which suggests that women who follow NHS guidance and breastfeed their babies exclusively for six months may be putting them at risk of iron deficiencies and allergies.

The report - published in the BMJ by Dr Mary Fewtrell from the Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street and co-authors specialising in child nutrition - suggests that babies should be introduced to solid foods earlier than the six months currently suggested by the Department of Health, who followed guidelines issued by the WHO in 2003.

Fewtrell explained that a review conducted by the European Food Safety Authority's panel on dietetic products, nutrition, and allergies concluded that for infants across the EU, complementary foods may be introduced safely between four to six months, and six months of exclusive breast feeding may not always provide sufficient nutrition for optimal growth and development.

However Janet Fyle says she believes the idea that the UK should reconsider its current advice on exclusive breastfeeding for six months 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 adds: "The argument often advanced that the six months policy is best suited to developing countries is not strictly true. There is evidence that some babies do die in developed countries from inappropriate young child feeding; such as the introduction of solid foods earlier before their swallowing mechanism is mature enough or they have fully developed the capability to cope with solid foods.

"It is also of concern that we are trying to imprint healthy eating habits into children from birth and yet it is being suggested that parents introduce solid foods earlier. In reality, many parents would introduce sugar based solids which could develop the child's taste for sweet foods and impact on their eating habits later on.

"The RCM remains concerned that parents continue to be given inconsistent and confusing messages on infant feeding."

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "Breast milk provides all the nutrients a baby needs up to six months of age and we recommend exclusive breastfeeding for this time. Mothers who wish to introduce solids before six months should always talk to health professionals first.

"The Department of Health will review this research alongside all emerging evidence on infant feeding. We have asked the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition to undertake a review of infant feeding, which is expected to report later this year."

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