Knowing baby food content Confusion - when to wean?
This article, Knowing baby food content, was last updated on 02 June 2008 and is now out of date and held in our online archive for reference. Explore our latest Baby & child articles.
The current advice on weaning is that it shouldn't start before six months - two months later than was previously recommended. The World Health Organization states: 'Infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months [for] optimal growth.'
The UK government supports that view, even though until 2003 it advised parents to start weaning between four and six months. It can be confusing for parents because first-stage food is usually labelled as suitable from four months.
Patti Rundall, Policy Director of the Baby Milk Action campaign group, is very concerned: 'These foods are highly profitable for these companies and it's very much in their interests to encourage mothers to start using them as soon as possible.'
But Roger Clarke, of the Infant and Dietetic Foods Association of UK baby food manufacturers, said the product labelling reflects the current legislation, which says that baby food shouldn't be labelled as suitable for babies younger than four months. He told us: 'There are varying scientific views and the jury is still out on whether weaning should wait until six months.
'Babies develop at different rates and the person best-placed to advise parents is their health professional.'
Despite the prevailing advice, half of all UK mothers wean their babies before four months - with almost one in ten giving solids at six to eight weeks old. The government recognises this and warns: 'Solid food should not be introduced before the end of your baby's fourth month.'
Babies younger than four months may have immature guts, be at greater risk of developing food allergies and be unable to sit up properly. Parents may start weaning early because babies seem hungry or wake in the night more often, but young babies may just need to be given milk more often.
After six months babies don't get enough iron from milk alone. But if you're thinking of weaning before six months, discuss it with your health visitor first.