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Researchers Look At Potential Benefits, Risks Of Exclusive Breastfeeding During First 6 Months Of Life

A review of existing studies on breastfeeding, published Thursday online in BMJ (British Medical Journal), suggests some findings that contradict the WHO’s 2001 recommendation that mothers “exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of their infants’ lives,” Nature News reports (Gilbert, 1/14). Researchers who conducted the most recent review “said babies fed only breast milk could suffer iron deficiency and may be more prone to allergies” and they said mothers could stop breastfeeding as early as four months, Agence France-Presse writes. 

“The [2001] WHO recommendation ‘rested largely’ on a review of 16 studies, including seven from developing countries. It concluded that babies given only breast milk for six months had fewer infections and experienced no growth problems,” the news service reports (1/14). As for the current review of studies, BMJ “notes the findings of observational studies that babies in the West who were exclusively breastfed for six months were less likely to succumb to infections, such as pneumonia, than those fed for less than six months. Therefore, ‘exclusive breastfeeding for six months is readily defendable in resource poor countries with high morbidity and mortality from infections,'” according to the researchers, Nature News writes (1/14).

“Three of the four authors acknowledged having consulted or received research funding within the past three years from companies that manufacture infant formulas and baby foods,” ABC News notes, adding that the article has resulted in “criticism from pediatricians and lactation specialists, who adamantly believe that exclusive breastfeeding for six months is the gold standard in neonatal nutrition” (Moisse, 1/14). “A spokeswoman for the WHO rejected suggestions that its recommendation is based on outdated evidence,” Nature News writes. “WHO closely follows new research findings in this area and has a process for periodically re-examining recommendations,” she said (1/14).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.