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Breastfeeding alone could harm babies

Turning medical wisdom on its head, British doctors say exclusive breastfeeding harms babies and advocate discarding current international guidelines that say babies should not be given anything — no water, food or drink — but their mother’s milk for the first six months of their lives.

health and fitness Updated: Jan 15, 2011 01:26 IST
Sanchita Sharma

Turning medical wisdom on its head, British doctors say exclusive breastfeeding harms babies and advocate discarding current international guidelines that say babies should not be given anything — no water, food or drink — but their mother’s milk for the first six months of their lives.

The World Health Organisation recommends that all newborns should be exclusively breastfed for six months as it build immunity and lowers infection. The British Medical Journal (BMJ) study says that WHO guidelines are relevant only in developing countries where food- and water-borne infections are high and in the West, failing to give babies solid food before six months makes babies anaemic and prone to food allergies.

India’s National Guidelines on infant and young child feeding (Ministry of Women and Child Development’s Nutrition and Food Board 2006) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, followed by complementary feeding from six months while continuing breastfeeding for up to the age of two years or beyond.

Neonatal experts say supplementation is needed in many cases as early as four months. “Nutrition varies according to the babies’ size, activity and growth rate, as it depends on the quality of the breast milk supply...,” said senior gynaecologist and child expert Dr Malvika Sabharwal.

Milk contains no iron, which is an essential component of haemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component of the blood. Iron-deficiency anaemia is linked to to mental, coordination and social development problems, so the study suggests babies should be given fresh food, including lettuce and meat, for iron from four months.

“We recommend exclusive breastfeeding for six months followed by fresh foods. Formula preparations at any stage should be avoided,” said a health ministry official who did not want to be named as he’s not authorised to speak to media.

A review by the European Food Safety Authority’s panel last year had also concluded that for infants across the EU, complementary foods may be introduced safely between four to six months for optimal growth and development.