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UK study questions WHO breast-feeding guidelines

A new study is casting doubts over widely held guidelines on breastfeeding, creating confusion over when babies should be weaned.

In a report published in the British Medical Journal, pediatric health experts from several of Britain's child health and research institutions warn that exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months, as recommended by the World Health Organization, may actually be harmful for babies, and may not provide them with adequate nutrition.

Their research found babies who were exclusively breastfed for six months, compared with those breastfed for four or five months, were more likely to develop anemia, food allergies and celiac disease.

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The report also says there is "no compelling evidence" to support the WHO's six-month recommendation, announced in 2001. Moreover, it suggests there are unexplored concerns that prolonged exclusive breastfeeding could reduce the window for introducing new tastes.

"Bitter tastes in particular, may be important in the later acceptance of green leafy vegetables, which may potentially affect later food preferences with influence on health outcomes such as obesity," it says.

However, the authors emphasize they are not challenging the merits of breastfeeding itself.

"It is important not to confuse the evidence for promoting six months' exclusive breast feeding with that for breast feeding itself, which is extensive and is not considered here," they write.

Still, the report has outraged breastfeeding advocates, The Guardian newspaper reports.

"Yeah. Like fresh air and clean water are bad for you," one commenter wrote on the newspaper's web site.

"Resist research. Trust nature," wrote another.

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Is it time to re-examine breastfeeding guidelines? Tell us what you think.

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About the Author

Wency Leung is a general assignment reporter for the Life section. Before joining The Globe in early 2010, she has worked as a reporter in Vancouver, Prague, and Phnom Penh. More

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