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Foods labelling "from 4 months"

HiPP fully supports the Department of Health's advice, based on the 2001 World Health Assembly (WHA) resolution, that breastfeeding is the best nutrition for babies for the first six months of life.

The WHA resolution urged Member States to:- "Strengthen activities and develop new approaches to protect, promote and support exclusive breastfeeding for six months as a global public health recommendation, taking into account the findings of the WHO expert consultation on optimal duration of exclusive breastfeeding and to provide safe and appropriate complementary foods, with continued breastfeeding for up to two years or beyond."

Taking into account the report of the expert consultation and related documents issued with this resolution, HiPP and the IFM, the international association of infant food manufacturers, supported the implementation of this global public health recommendation.The report of this expert consultation does point out, however, that - "The expert consultation recognizes that some mothers will be unable to, or choose not to, follow this recommendation. These mothers should also be supported to optimize their infant's nutrition."

HiPP believes that implementation of the WHO resolution in the UK should be appropriate to the UK situation taking into account the individual needs of mothers and babies, both developmental and nutritional. For example, some infants have low iron status and may require the introduction of foods other than breast milk before the age of 6 months, and other infants may need the additional energy provided by the introduction of ‘solids’ into their diets in order to meet their requirements and to optimize their growth and development.

HiPP, therefore, supports a flexible approach to infant feeding that encompasses individual variation and choice. In this respect, HiPP has been reassured by previous statements from Department of Health expert advisory committee SACN (Ref. 1) that concluded that whilst there is sufficient evidence to suggest exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months is nutritionally adequate, it is acknowledged that UK mothers introduce complementary foods earlier than 6 months for many valid reasons. Flexibility in advice about infant feeding was recommended confirming previous advice that any complementary feeding should not be introduced before the baby is 4 months old (17 weeks). The weaning advice from the Department of Health also states this as the earliest age that complementary feeding should be started

A recent study by a research team of highly respected pediatricians in the UK (Ref. 2) stated that exclusive breastfeeding for the whole of the first 6 months of life might not be the best for all babies. From reviewing the latest evidence they summarized that this may increase the risk of food allergies and iron deficiency anemia in some babies and that they would benefit from earlier weaning, sometime between 4-6 months of age. Reports from the European Food Safety Authority (2009) and the British Dietetic Association (2010) also acknowledge that some babies might be ready for weaning before 6 months and that it is safe to do so between four to six months. The UK research team were keen to point out that they support the World Health Organization advice for exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months for babies in developing countries where the circumstances are quite different to the UK, but from their review of the evidence accumulated since the publication of the WHO’s advice in 2001 they believe the official advice for the UK should now be revisited. The Department of Health’s nutrition committee is due to report on this topic soon.

As a baby food manufacturer, we want to provide adequate complementary foods for all infants according to their individual needs. We therefore label our gluten free, smooth Stage 1 baby foods as ‘from 4 months’ to ensure that mothers wanting to start weaning before 6 months have appropriate foods to offer their babies. Our labeling is in full accordance with national legislation, as laid down in "The Processed Cereal-based Foods and Baby Foods for Infants and Young Children Regulations 1997".

References

  • Statement from the ad hoc Department of Health Expert Group on Child Nutrition, SACN Paper for Discussion: An Update on Child Nutrition: Optimal Duration of Exclusive Breastfeeding SACN 01/05 (http:www.sacn.gov.uk/sacn0105.pdf).
  • Six months of exclusive breast feeding: how good is the evidence? Fewtrell M, Wilson DC, Booth I, Lucas A (2011). BMJ 2011; 342:c5955