Helena Gibson-Moore is part of a team of nutrition scientists from the British Nutrition Foundation
A new in-depth review of UK infant feeding practice released in July will form the basis of Government advise for practitioners and families going forward.
The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), a group of independent experts that advise the Government on nutrition and related health matters, published the Feeding in the First Year of Life draft report on 19 July.
This aims to review the totality of evidence on infant feeding practice to assess the appropriateness of current advice in the UK, including the introduction of allergens to babies, and to make recommendations to the Government based on their findings.
For the first time, the report considered behavioural aspects of complementary feeding, and recognised the importance of familiarising infants with a wide range of flavours and textures from six months. In an obesogenic age such early patterns may increase the acceptance of a wide range of healthy foods, including vegetables.
What current advice does the evidence still support?
Surprisingly, as this review was a long time coming, little has changed from current Government recommendations in the UK. Advice upheld by the report includes:
- to breastfeed exclusively until around the first six months after which complementary foods (weaning) should be introduced alongside continued breastfeeding;
- not to commence complementary feeding prior to four months of age;
- to increase breastfeeding rates and to support women in breastfeeding for as long as possible.
They also emphasised the recommendations to:
- avoid adding sugars and salt to complementary foods;
- limit infants’ intake of sugars-sweetened drinks;
- consider daily vitamin D supplementation;
- introduce non-valve free-flowing cups at six months;
- discourage bottle feeding from 12 months;
- not give cows’ milk as a main drink to infants aged under 12 months.
What areas are under further review?
Because of the relatively low prevalence of vitamin A deficiency, routine advice for infants in the UK to take vitamin A supplements is suggested to be reviewed.
Potential new recommendations
One of the emerging new areas of research is the potential for reduction of allergy with the early introduction of allergens. SACN’s conclusion that deliberate exclusion of eggs and peanuts during the 6-12 month complementary feeding period can increase risk of allergy may prompt Public Health England (PHE) to change existing wording to strengthen advice on introducing peanuts and eggs at around six months. Watch this space!
How can nurses help?
Healthcare professionals such as nurses, midwives and health visitors play a vital role in supporting mothers in their care. It is crucial that those in contact with mums provide the support they need to promote and facilitate the initiation, establishment and maintenance of breastfeeding, and to provide up-to-date advice on the introduction of complementary foods, to help babies get the best possible start in life.
Although still in draft form and subject to modification after public consultation, the report indicates that core messages related to breastfeeding, age of introduction to solid foods, and diet during the complementary feeding period are unlikely to change.
You can take part in the consultation here until 13 September.