When to wean?

A few weeks back there was a big media story about a study which said that exclusive breastfeeding for six months could potentially be harmful. This was in direct contrast to current WHO and UK guidelines advising that babies should wait till six months to begin on solids. At the time it created a big media splash with radio phone ins and newspaper articles all discussing weaning. I was pretty annoyed about this story at the time and wrote this blog update. However I then forgot to post it. Oops! But here, for your not-very-topical reading pleasure, is my two pence on the matter.

There is currently in my experience a strong societal push towards weaning early. Therefore it is important that there are clear, simple and scientifically sound guidelines around introducing solid food to babies. Women need to follow their instincts about their child but often the societal pressure is towards feeding solids early. The clear guidance that six months is best helps those mums who wish to wait to resist the push to early weaning. Clearly mums are influenced by a variety of factors, not least the need for many to return to work after six months off and the understandable desire to therefore introduce solids earlier when they can be there to do it. It’s very similar with breastfeeding. We still have a culture that favours bottle feeding, in my opinion, so we need strong messages from healthcare professional setting out why ‘breast is best’ etc. Again it’s for mums to follow their instincts but let’s ensure we’re not making things harder for those who do choose to bf/wean later by muddying the waters.

The media has presented the research as if it has as much weight as the WHO guidance. One vs the other. This gives them a nice combative story but it also gives audiences the impression that the two arguments should be given equal weight when considering what’s best for your child. It’s the same with climate change – one dissenting scientist equals thousands who agree. It just confuses mums when, it’s likely, the existing advice is still the most comprehensive assessment of the evidence.

We don’t live in a world where people base their decisions solely on a careful consideration of the scientific evidence, weighing up the arguments. So many other factors come into play – advice/examples of family and friends, pressure to return to work, the myriad of baby books out there, gut feel, etc. Women need clear guidelines from trusted sources – the WHO, the NHS. Throwing one conflicting paper into the mix as though it had the same weight as the existing guidance from these other sources, feels pretty irresponsible.

As for when is the correct time to begin weaning it has to be a personal instinctual decision, informed ideally by authoritative guidance. I was pleased to hear the NCT advocating that mums look for signs of developmental readiness rather than perceived hungryness or fears about potential iron deficiencies. More advice from them here.

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