This despite none of those babies yet reaching the "around six months" age recommendation for doing so.
Sometimes, it feels like we are banging our heads on a brick wall trying to achieve the guidelines of babies being exclusively breastfed in the first year of life - between the push for supplements of infant formula from as early as the first week to solids being actively encouraged at four months of age, it seems that many health professionals are either ignorant of, or disagree with, both the World Health Organisation AND the National Health & Medical Research Council, both of whom clearly state the age at which foods other than breastmilk/infant formula should be introduced to a baby:
Now, these are not some wacko group with an agenda to push, they are the formal bodies who provide guidelines on all aspects of health care globally and in Australia. I wonder if those health professionals are also defying the recommendations in other areas?Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants; it is also an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers. As a global public health recommendation, infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond. Exclusive breastfeeding from birth is possible except for a few medical conditions, and unrestricted exclusive breastfeeding results in ample milk production.World Health Organisation Infant Feeding GuidelinesIn Australia, it is recommended that infants be exclusively breastfed until around 6 months of age when solid foods are introduced. It is further recommended that breastfeeding be continued until 12 months of age and beyond, for as long as the mother and child desire. NHMRC Infant Feeding Guidelines 2012
Call me cynical, but you have to wonder who else has an interest in starting babies earlier than these clear guidelines - oh, that's right - the very large, multinational baby food industry! You only need to browse the aisle of your supermarket to see row after row of jars and packets stating "suitable from 4 months".
When babies are given "solids" (actually a misnomer) before they are developmentally ready, the foods need to be so liquified that they are nothing like the foods we eat. So all these "4-6 months" jars are pureed and contain nothing lumpy. They slip into the open mouths of babies, don't challenge the tongue thrust reflex very effectively and slide down the throat without much difference to the milk feeds the baby is used to.
Which is why the media reports of a recent study in the UK make such interesting reading:
But what about that other "first food", almost universely used with fondness, despite agreeance that it tastes on par with something like wall-paper paste: Farex and other brands of rice-cereal?
Starting a child off on a diet of rice cereal was like giving them "an oral glucose tolerance test''.
So why are these products so blatantly marketed as being the first foods for infants, if they are clearly not the healthiest options for parents to choose? This is a question that has been put to the FSANZ - (Food Standards Australia & new Zealand) who sets food labelling standards in the Food Standards Code. These standards are enforced by the Australian states and territories and, in New Zealand, by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).
Their final report makes interesting reading and contains this telling statement:
You will note their is no reference to being physically ready - the tongue-thrust reflux gone, able to sit in an upright position to eat safely.
Most parents relied on two main signals from their baby in determining if he or she was ready for solids – these were regarded more as signs of hunger rather than developmental readiness:• an indication of strong interest in food by following with their eyes when others eat around them, or reaching for food from an adult’s plate; and• disturbed sleep patterns at night, indicating that the breast or bottle feed was no longer enough
You can read the full report here. You will note this document is dated 2004 and clearly labelling has not changed as suggested.
So we are left with the following confusing picture for parents:
- The WHO and NHMRC guidelines say around six months is the age to introduce foods other than breastmilk.
- The commerical baby food industry continue to label their products as suitable from four months.
- Health professionals and others continue to suggest starting solids will improve infant sleep and infant growth - despite the normalcy of increased night waking and weight gain plateau in the 4-6 month age group.
Its time we asked the question of our Local, State and Federal Governments WHY so many mothers are starting solids at 4 months and not around 6 months. In Victoria, solids are discussed at the four month Maternal & Child Health visit. One has to question if the emphasis of that talk is on waiting until 6 months or if mothers are being encouraged to start earlier. Statistics on breastfeeding rates may tell the story:
Statistics from the 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey3 results indicate that 96% of mothers initiate breastfeeding. Thereafter, exclusive breastfeeding rates drop off. Less than half (39%) of babies are still being exclusively breastfed to 3 months (less than 4 months) and less than one quarter (15%) to 5 months (less than 6 months).Is it really a move to infant formula replacing breastmilk that gives these figures or are our exclusively breastfed babies during this significant age range decreasing because of the early introduction of other foods?
Questions you might like to ask your State and Federal Health Ministers.