Monday, April 16, 2012

Why is feeding babies made so hard?

Generally I think that introducing food to babies shouldn't be so tricky but it seems confusing even the second time around. The Age ran an article on their front page this weekend titled "Who knows best in the battle of the breast?". It covers some new research around links between the age of starting solids and allergies.

The first thing that struck me was that this was front page news - really? Is this all you've got (accepting that it was a slow news Sunday). Surely this only interests a teeny tiny portion of the population.

The second thing that struck me is that they'd somehow managed to make the article about breastfeeding - what sensationalist journalism! The research in the article suggests that there may be benefits in introducing a wider range of foods between 4 to 6 months, rather than waiting until after 6 months or longer, to prevent allergies. This really has NOTHING to do with breastfeeding - it's about introducing babies to food. However, they'd managed to get an (almost entirely irrelevant) quote from a lactation lady saying that the introduction of solids might reduce the level of breastfeeding - based on no evidence. The quote was used to suggest that if you feed solids slightly earlier you will deprive babies of breastmilk whereas I think most mothers would totally understand that you still offer plenty of milk when starting solids (give us some credit - the breast is best message is very loud).

The advice around when to start babies on solids seems to change each year from 4-6 months to after 6 months and then back again and really there is no concrete evidence on which to base your decision - which is later acknowledged in the article. While of course I think the media has a role to play in promoting new research in this space, I think there is no reason to add a controversial angle to it and further confuse what should be a relatively straightforward decision.

Most of the sane advice that I have read suggests to start kids on some basic foods (fruit, vegies, baby cereals) when they show interest and have reasonable head control and to seek medical advice if you have a family history of food allergies. Breastmilk or formula should still be a central source of nutrition for the next few months after introducing solids. It should be that simple! Let's not add an element of guilt (am I depriving my baby of precious breastmilk) to this normal developmental stage.

If you want some reliable advice on introducing solids, I think the Victorian Govt's Better Health Channel is a good enough place to start -

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