It is 15 years since the World Health Organization first recommended that mothers exclusively breastfeed for the first six months. The advice was adopted by national governments, including the UK government.
But a review of the evidence, published in 2010 in the British Medical Journal, suggests that this might be wrong, instead it suggests that four months might be best.
So, what is the study saying?
They say that babies breastfed for six months are at a higher risk of developing anaemia, and that this might lead to mental and motor problems. They have also suggested that food allergies and coeliac disease might have a higher incidence.
However, there were also positive indications that babies exclusively breastfed for six months were less likely to succumb to some infections, such as pneumonia.
This was especially true outside of the West, so that where there is high morbidity and risk of infections then the justification for exclusive breastfeeding for six months was apparently better.
In fact there might not be much new here as the advice from 2009 by the European Food Safety Authority suggested that mothers should introduce solid foods at between four to six months – so the question is not whether but when.
What should a mother do?
Well the first advice is don’t stop or start anything immediately, continue what you are doing and form your own opinion.
To help with this, read the full BMJ article (and not the summary in the newspapers)
You could also read the comments on the article, which might help put things into perspective.
Be wary of the baby milk and baby food industry that are no doubt jumping up and down with excitement – so watch out for some cleverly worded adverts in the next few months. Remember that these views were not based on any original research, just a review of existing research and some have suggested that those doing the review may have been biased.
So, at the end of the day, the best advice might be to look for signs that baby is ready for solids and then try them out.
But otherwise don’t fret – there is no hard and fast rule.