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ESPGHAN's 2008 recommendation for early introduction of complementary foods: how good is the evidence?

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Since 2002, the World Health Organization and many governments and professional associations have recommended exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months followed by complementary feeding (giving solid foods alongside breast milk) as optimal infant feeding practice. Several articles have been published challenging this recommendation. Arguably, the most influential has been the 2008 commentary of the European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) Committee on Nutrition, which recommended that complementary foods should be introduced to all infants between 17 and 26 weeks. We challenge the validity of ESPGHAN's position, questioning the adequacy of the literature search, the interpretation and evidence used to reach their conclusions and the balance of an approach that focuses on disease prevention, with scant consideration of growth and neuromotor development. We contend that ESPGHAN's position should be understood as an expert opinion that may be influenced by conflicts of interest. In our view, the ESPGHAN position paper is not evidence based and does not justify a change of the current public health recommendation for 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding. At an individual level, health professionals should understand that developmental readiness for starting solid foods has an age range like other developmental milestones; that fewer infants will probably be ready to start complementary feeding before, rather than after, 6 months; and that their role is to equip parents with the confidence and skills to recognise the signs of developmental readiness. This empowerment process for infants and parents should be preferred over the prescriptive ESPGHAN approach.
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Document Type: Commentary

Affiliations: 1: Health Services Research, Epidemiology and International Health, Institute for Maternal and Child Health IRCCS Bo Garofolo, Trieste, Italy 2: Centre for International Health and Development, UCL Institute of Child Health, London, UK 3: Neonatal Unit, Hospital 12 de Octubre, Madrid, Spain 4: Primary Health Care Centre Fuente de San Luis, Valencia, Spain 5: Primary Health Care Centre Torre Ramona, Zaragoza, Spain 6: Marina Baixa Hospital, Villajoyosa, Spain 7: Child Care and Prevention, Bühl, Germany 8: Instituto Gama Pinto, Lisbon, Portugal 9: Local Health Authority, Reggio Emilia, Italy 10: Department of Paediatrics, Leiden University Medical Centre, Leiden, the Netherlands

Publication date: October 1, 2011

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