I don't usually post on Friday nights, but this one has really gotten under my skin.
You may have heard that an article was just published in the British Medical Journal titled, "Six months of exclusive breastfeeding: How good is the evidence?" It has led to a number of articles in the British and American press, some with headlines like, "Six months of breastmilk alone is too long and could harm babies, scientists now say."
The article argues that there is insufficient evidence for the recommendation of six months of exclusive breastfeeding, that the recommendation was not given appropriate scrutiny, and that exclusive breastfeeding for six months could actually lead to detrimental outcomes such as iron deficiency, allergies, and celiac disease. They also suggest (I'm not making this up) that delaying the introduction of bitter tastes will decrease children's appetites for foods like leafy greens, thereby increasing the risk of obesity. They suggest that starting solids between four and six months may be appropriate.
When I heard about this article I had a mixture of reactions. I felt both skeptical (suspicious?), but I also felt a responsiblity to hear the authors out. Recommendations change based on available information, and it doesn't do anyone good to cover your ears and say "la, la, la" when you hear things you don't like.
Then I read UNICEF UK's response. It states that the current recommendation is based on evidence that early introduction of solids increases the risk of infection and disease. It addresses each of the claims in the article, noting that 1) introducing solids earlier will actually reduce the amount of iron consumed, 2) there is insufficient evidence to support the claim that later introduction of gluten increases the risk of celiac disease, 3) there is insufficient evidence to support the authors' claims about allergies, and 4) breastmilk changes in taste based on maternal diet and so babies are introduced to different tastes without having to eat solids, so let's not worry about those leafy greens, folks.
But here's the punch line:
When considering this analysis it should be noted that three of the four authors have declared an association with the baby feeding industry. Less breastfeeding and earlier introduction of solid food will lead to greater profit for this industry.
One comment from the authors of the British Medical Journal article caught my eye: "Some organisations are all too happy to quote our data when it supports breastfeeding. They are choosy in what they will allow."
Fair enough. I'll be consistent in what I do with research from these authors. Very consistent.