Babies 'don't need baby food'

Feeding babies mashed or pureed food is unnecessary, and could even be unhealthy, a senior director at Unicef (United Nations' Children's Fund) has said.

Gill Rapley, deputy director of Unicef's Baby Friendly Initiative on infant nutrition, has produced a DVD and other information about correct feeding for babies.

She says research and experience both concluded that there is not an interim time between a milk-only diet and solids. Babies should have milk only, then start on solid foods, eating what satisfied them.

"In 2002 the World Health Organisation backed research that found breast or formula milk provided all the nutrition a baby needs up to the age of six months," Ms Rapley said.

"That research said feeding a baby any other food during the first six months would dilute the nutritional value of the milk and might even be harmful to the baby's health.

"Sound scientific research and government advice now agree that there is no longer any window of a baby's development in which they need something more than milk and less than solids," said Ms Rapley, who has 25 years' experience as a UK health visitor.

She said babies are capable of chewing at six months, and giving them pureed baby foods such as those widely available commercially could delay development of chewing ability.

The Observer newspaper estimated that the baby food industry is worth €675 million in Britain alone. Ms Rapley said that giving babies an interim and unnatural diet could be bad news for future eating habits.

"I found so many parents were coming to me with the same problems, saying 'my child is constipated, my child is really picky', and they couldn't get them on to second-stage baby food," she said.

Ms Rapley says there is no reason young children need pureed food, as long as they are sitting up straight and supervised by an adult when eating.

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