The New York magazine blog Grub Street brought up an interesting juxtaposition the other day, suggesting that American mothers don’t breastfeed long enough, while mothers in the UK breastfeed too long. That’s because most American mothers don’t breastfeed exclusively for the first four months of life as the American Association of Pediatrics recommends, but British mothers are taught to abide by the rules of the World Health Organization that suggest they should offer their infants breastmilk exclusively for the first six months of life.
Dr. Mary Fewtrell, a pediatrician in London, believes “there is a higher risk of a baby developing iron-deficiency anemia and food allergies like celiac disease if kids don’t get certain solid foods before they’re 6 months old.” So the Brits are hoping to move to a model that encourages mothers to start feeding their infants some solids in addition to breastmilk at around 4 months of age.
Interestingly enough, Fewtrell and her colleagues also believe that “prolonged exclusive breast feeding may reduce the window for introducing new tastes, particularly bitter taste which may be important in the later acceptance of green leafy vegetables.” They feel this could “encourage unhealthy eating in later life and lead to obesity.”
What is even more remarkable is that supplementing breastmilk with juice or solids too early is thought to have the same obesity-causing effect. A new study in Pediatrics shows that 20 percent of babies in low-income families in North Carolina “were fed solid foods or juice by age 1 month; and by 3 months old, 70 percent were getting fed something (often fruit juice or added cereal) in addition to milk or formula.” Rodale.com reports that “Infants fed these foods consume 100 more calories a day than infants given only formula or only breast milk, which can lead to babies who are overweight for their height.”
The golden rule then when it comes to feeding an infant seems to be to breastfeed exclusively for the first four months of life, then begin to offer them vegetable puree to ensure they develop a healthy taste palette.