Here is a comment by Adriano Cattaneo to the BMJ Rapid Response (Adriano Cattaneo is Consultant Epidemiologist and Co-ordinator of the Unit for Health Services Research and International Health, Institute of Child Health “IRCCS Burlo Garofolo”, Trieste, Italy, a WHO Collaborating Centre for Maternal and Child Health.)
The evidence provided by Fewtrell and collaborators to challenge the WHO 6-month recommendation is no better than the one provided by WHO. It is in fact slightly worse. The WHO recommendation is based on two RCTs and 16 observational studies. All the studies published after 2001 on infection, nutritional adequacy, allergy and coeliac disease, and outcomes in the longer term that Fewtrell and collaborators cite to question the 6-month policy are observational. The only two RCTs they cite are ongoing and can not be used to argue against the WHO 6-month policy. Until further evidence becomes available, I prefer to stand by the WHO recommendations (and hope the UK and Italian DoH will agree with me). Incidentally, the WHO recommendation has never been meant to apply to all infants. It is a public health recommendation to be used for national and professional policies and regulations (for example, on labelling of baby foods). Infants in fact do not wake up the day they reach six months and ask for solids!!! Readiness to eat the first solids is distributed as any other biological variable, a Bell shaped curve that in my opinion (because no research is available to know the real shape) has a mode at six months and is skewed to the right (i.e. more infants are ready after than before six months). Why don’t we concentrate on physiology and neuromuscular development to advise mothers on when to start solids, instead of wandering in search of doubtful evidence? Finally, I am amazed by the rapid spread into the popular press and media of the questionable messages posted by Fewtrell and collaborators in their paper. Less than 24 hours after publication, newspapers in Italy (and I guess in UK and other countries; TV will follow suit) are already talking about a “new study” showing that exclusively breastfeeding infants to six months may be dangerous. Am I wrong if I ask the authors to make a quick public statement to transparently say that theirs is not a “new study” but just a respectable opinion based on shaky grounds?