Feeding in the First Year of Life: A Summary

Last week the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition released the first review since 1994 into infant feeding entitled “Feeding in the First Year of Life”.

This is a report that has been conducted over a number of years and will be sent to Government for them to consider the recommendations made and decide what needs to be put into practice.

Interestingly the report hasn’t highlighted much of a need for change when it comes to advice around infant nutrition. This is really positive and shows that as Registered Nutritionists and other professionals working with early years, the recommendations we have been advising are still more or less appropriate to this day.

Highlights of the report for me:

Breastfeeding

The report highlighted a need to “support breastfeeding initiation and longer breastfeeding durations”. Only 1% of mothers are exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months (as recommended) and only 34% are breastfeeding at all at this stage.

Current advice is: “to breastfeed exclusively for around the first 6 months of an infant’s life and to continue breastfeeding for at least the first year of life”.

In the UK we need to look at why we have such low rates of sustained breastfeeding, I have written about my breastfeeding experience before and have to wonder whether, if my experience is similar to others. That this is someway of an explanation as to why rates are so low.

Introducing foods

The report also emphasised that the timing of the introduction of solid foods should remain the same and that “most infants should not start solid foods until around the age of 6 months, having achieved developmental readiness”.

There was also a lot of talk about “diversification” of the diet. In other words, offering plenty of variety right from the word go, which is something I have always promoted.

They also mentioned repeat exposures and how some foods may need to be offered multiple times before they are accepted. Something that we know from research but that hasn’t been official Government recommendations, until now.

Allergies

SACN spoke a lot about allergies in this report and there were some important changes when it came to introducing allergen risk foods to babies. For example, the report highlighted that foods containing peanut and hen’s egg can be introduced from around 6 months of age and need not be differentiated from other solid foods. Previously it was always recommended that these foods shouldn’t be offered until 6 months of age.

As an addition to this, the report suggested that the deliberate exclusion of peanut or hen’s egg beyond 6 to 12 months of age may increase the risk of allergy to those foods. It also suggested that once these are introduced, they should be part of the diet throughout the first 6-12 months to reduce the risk of developing an allergy to these foods.

However families of infants with a history of early-onset eczema or suspected food allergy may wish to seek medical advice before introducing these foods.*

Other recommendations

  • Breast milk, infant formula and water should be the only drinks offered after 6 months of age.
  • Dietary, flavour and texture diversification should proceed incrementally throughout the introduction of solid foods. This means that right from the beginning of weaning, babies should experience a wide variety of flavours and be introduced to a variety of textures as they become more confident with taking solids.
  • The report also acknowledged that when introducing new foods it should be recognised that they may need to be presented to infants on many occasions before they are accepted, particularly as infants get older.
  • A diverse diet, including iron-rich foods should be introduced at around 6 months of age in an “age appropriate form”. Delayed chord clamping improves iron status at birth and, in turn this can determine iron status throughout infancy.
  • Cows’ milk should not be given as a main drink to infants under 12 months of age.
  • Intakes of salt and sugar in infants foods should be monitored as this age group have reported high intakes of these in the diet.
  • All infants from birth to 1 year of age who are being exclusively or partially breastfed should be given a daily supplement containing 8.5 to 10µg of vitamin D (340-400IU/d). Infants who are fed infant formula should not be given a vitamin D supplement unless they are consuming less than 500ml (about one pint) of infant formula a day, as infant formula is fortified with vitamin D.

For more information you can read the report in full here or the British Nutrition Foundation’s summary here or you can read my previous articles here on Baby’s First Foods.