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Few matters in childcare are more emotionally charged than the “when”, “what” and “how” of introducing solid foods to the infant diet. And of these, it is the “when” that has been the main focus of official advice from authoritative professionals for the last 50 years or so, as we have sought a rational basis for telling mothers when they are allowed to give their children solids for the first time. Interestingly, neither the mothers nor the babies have taken much notice of this officious advice,1 and most have quietly gone their own way even if it means fibbing a little to their general practitioner, health visitor or paediatrician to avoid judgmental remarks.
The weaning debate has been largely predicated on the notion that there is some magic age at which, or from which, it is in some sense “safe” or “optimal” to introduce solids. Yet it is highly counter-intuitive that such an age exists. In what other area of developmental biology is there any such rigid age threshold for anything? We all recognise that age thresholds are legal inventions to create workable rules and definitions, and have no meaning in physiology or development, yet when we talk about weaning we seem to forget this.
To make matters worse, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation to breast feed exclusively for the first 6 months has somehow been transmuted to a widely held understanding that infants, regardless of the milk on which they are initially fed, should not be given solids until they are 6 months old, as …