Solids minimise baby food allergies

TODAY medical expert Dr Ric Gordon joined the team to discuss how doctors are encouraging parents to start their babies on solid foods earlier, to help minimise their risk of developing food allergies.

Doctors are telling parents to feed their babies solids from four months, two months earlier than usually recommended, to minimise the risk of developing food allergies.

Australian guidelines say babies should start solids at six months but immunologists, allergy specialists and paediatricians are pushing for a change to bring Australia into line with the US and Europe.

Specialists from the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, Sydney Children's Hospital and The Children's Hospital Westmead say recent studies have shown introducing food from four months instead of six can lower the risk of developing allergies, eczema, asthma and food intolerances.

An analysis of the past decade of research conducted since the World Health Organisation (WHO) set the six-month benchmark was published in the British Medical Journal this year, suggesting guidelines be reviewed.

Professor Dianne Campbell from The Children's Hospital Westmead, said the National Health and Medical Research Council was considering bringing its six-month recommendation forward to four.

"From observational studies it seemed the children who had delayed introduction of solids, like wheat and eggs, looked like they were developing more allergic diseases. From four months, there really is no evidence that delaying the introduction of solids is harmful, and it may be beneficial."

Dr Ana Dosen from Sydney Children's and St George Hospitals, said introducing foreign protein in the form of solids alongside breast milk from four months appeared to be in the best interests of the baby.

But breastfeeding advocates argue six months remains the best time to introduce solids.

Australian Breastfeeding Association NSW president Louise Duursma said existing guidelines took into account whether the baby's gut was ready to digest solids and whether the child was developmentally mature enough to eat food.

Ms Duursma said babies were exposed to different proteins early through their mother's breast milk.

Australian College of Midwives associate professor Hannah Dahlen said it was ideal if mothers exclusively breastfed for six months, but there was room for flexibility.

Robin Barker, a former midwife and author of Baby Love said when to start feeding babies was a source of anxiety for parents.

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