Child expert says pureed food for babies is unnecessary and harmful

A leading child care expert in Britain says that feeding babies pureed food is unnecessary and could be harmful to their health.

Gill Rapley, deputy director of UNICEF UK's Baby Friendly Initiative has warned that infants should be fed exclusively on breast or formula milk for the first six months, then weaned onto solids.

Rapley says otherwise they may lose out on vital nutrients derived from breast milk, which protect against common infections and allergies.

Mrs Rapley says spoon-feeding them pureed products could also delay their chewing ability, cause them to become fussy eaters and increase the likelihood of constipation.

The warning is backed by research from the World Health Organisation which shows that feeding babies pureed food was unnatural and unnecessary and comes as increasing numbers of parents are relying on supermarket-bought pureed food for their infants.

The pureed baby food industry is now worth millions and experts believe four out of five babies aged between four and twenty months now rely on tinned and jarred products, many of which are organic or made with fresh local ingredients to increase their appeal to parents.

Mrs Rapley says parents often think that their babies need something more than milk when they get to four months or so but scientists and government advisors beg to differ.

The World Health Organisation supported research in 2002 which found breast or formula milk provided all the nutrition a baby needs up to the age of six months and any other food during their first six months dilutes the nutritional value of the milk and might even be harmful to the baby's health.

Mrs Rapley says after six months, babies should still be breast fed but they should also be given proper food such as pieces of meat and vegetables that they can chew and suck on and there is no need for pureed food.

Mrs Rapley has 25 years experience as a health visitor under her belt and she has carried out her own research into the feeding habits of infants; she found that babies who were fed on solids after six months developed better chewing skills than those who were fed pureed food.

They also developed better hand control as they were more likely to feed themselves than be spoon-fed by parents and were less fussy about what they ate.

Infants fed pureed food before six months often did not take easily to solids as they were used to eating food where individual tastes and textures were disguised and were more likely to become constipated - because they could not control how much food they ate or how long they chewed it.

Mrs Rapley has produced a DVD called Baby-Led-Weaning which advises parents to let children over six months feed themselves with solids.

Other experts however warn that it is difficult to set an exact age at which babies should be given solids, as individuals develop eating skills at different rates and say the research needed to be looked at carefully.

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