Too much breastfeeding 'puts children off greens'

If you want your child to eat their greens, do not continue with exclusive breast feeding for too long, child health experts say today.

Breast is best for babies, but delaying the introduction of solids beyond six months may lead to the development of unhealthy eating habits later in life. Official guidance recommends babies be fed exclusively on breast milk for the first six months, but Mary Fewtrell, consultant paediatrician at the Institute of Child Health in London, and her colleagues say this may "reduce the window for introducing new tastes."

Writing in the British Medical Journal, they say: "Bitter tastes, in particular, may be important in the later acceptance of green leafy vegetables, which may potentially affect later food preferences with influence on health outcomes such as obesity."

Breast feeding is known to give babies the best start in life, improving bonding with the mother, boosting the baby's immune system and protecting against allergies. However, there is disagreement over how long babies should be fed exclusively on breast milk, before the introduction of solids.

The World Health Organisation recommended in 2001 that exclusive breast feeding for six months resulted in babies having fewer infections and no growth problems.

The UK initially rejected the recommendation along with many other Western nations, but in 2003 the Department of Health (DoH) said it would comply. But, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, which advises the DoH, acknowledged a lack of data on which to base the recommendation.

Dr Fewtrell said the guidance made sense in the developing world where access to clean water and safe weaning foods was a problem, and there was a high risk of infections, illness and death. But in the UK its relevance was questionable. There are also doubts that exclusive breast feeding can provide enough calories for a baby of six months.

Most parents wean their babies on to solids when they show signs of being hungry on milk alone. In practice, fewer than 1 per cent continue with exclusive breast feeding until six months.

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