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When to start?

What is the best age to start weaning? - By Helen Gardiner - HiPP Nutritionist

The best age to start weaning babies has been debated over the years, and the question about whether current weaning advice to start weaning at 6 months of age is appropriate for all babies remains a hot topic. So is there a ‘right age’ for all babies to start weaning or is a more flexible approach more realistic?

Although breastfeeding is undoubtedly the best way of feeding a baby for the first few months of life, a research team of highly respected pediatricians in the UK believe that exclusive breastfeeding for the whole of the first 6 months of life might not be the best for all babies (report in the British Medical Journal - BMJ 2011; 342:c5955 doi: 10.1136/bmj.c5955). From reviewing the latest evidence they believe this may increase the risk of food allergies and iron deficiency anemia in some babies and that these babies would benefit from earlier weaning, sometime between 4-6 months of age. Recent 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.

Other professional bodies and charities like the NCT are, however, standing by the current advice, whilst the Department of Health’s nutrition committee is due to report on infant feeding later this year.

Each baby is different and it would be inappropriate to think that weaning at exactly the same age is going to suit all babies. The publication of the Department of Health’s review later this year will be eagerly anticipated by health professionals who continue to give the best evidence-based advice to parents to ensure the optimal growth and development of babies.