PHA Statement on exclusive breastfeeding and recommendations for the introduction of solid foods at six months

This paper received significant local and national media coverage, feedback from journalists and parents included the call for present guidelines on weaning to be changed in line with the BMJ paper.(1) It is now acknowledged that parents of young children may be feeling anxious or confused by the apparent mixed messages and will need to be reassured that current guidance with regard to optimising infant nutrition remains valid.

The Public Health Agency recognise that policy recommendations require review when new evidence is made available, however, in this case the article being highlighted by the media is not new research or a systematic review and is not the robust evidence required to change policy recommendations.

The UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) have started work on a review of the evidence to support infant and young child feeding policy which will help to inform any future changes.(2)

The current DHSSPS recommendations on the duration of exclusive breastfeeding and introduction of solid foods remain as follows:(3)
• Breastmilk is the best form of nutrition for infants; it provides all the nutrients a baby needs;

• Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first six months of an infant’s life;

• Six months is the recommended age for the introduction of solid foods for both breast and formula fed infants;

• Breastfeeding (and /or breastmilk substitutes, if used) should continue beyond the first six months along with appropriate types and amounts of solid foods; and

• Mothers who are unable to, or choose not to, follow these recommendations should be supported to optimise their infants’ nutrition.

The Public Health Agency leaflet for parents ‘Weaning made easy’ provides practical information on weaning and acknowledges that some parents may choose to start introducing solid foods before six months.(4) All parents should continue to be supported to optimize their infant’s nutrition by exclusively breastfeeding as long as possible and ideally until around six months with the introduction of appropriate weaning foods when signs of developmental readiness occur which is usually around six months.

1. Frewtrell M, Wilson D, Booth I, Lucas A (2011) Six months of exclusive breastfeeding: how good is the evidence? BMJ 2011; 342:c5955
2. SACN ( 2011) Draft scope and Terms of Reference for a review of complementary and young child feeding.
3. DHSSPS (2004) Recommendations on breastfeeding duration and weaning, CMO circular
4. Public Health Agency (2010) Weaning made easy, moving from milk to family meals.