UCL News


Mothers got wrong advice for 40 years

23 April 2006

Breast-feeding mothers have been given potentially harmful advice on infant nutrition for the past 40 years, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has admitted.

Charts used in Britain for decades to advise mothers on a baby's optimum size have been based on the growth rates of infants fed on formula milk. …

These breast-feeding mothers were wrongly told that their babies were underweight and were advised, or felt pressured, to fatten them up by giving them formula milk or extra solids.

Health experts believe the growth charts may have contributed to childhood obesity and associated problems such as diabetes and heart disease in later life. …

Professor Tim Cole [UCL Institute of Child Health], said: "We should change to a growth chart based on breast-fed babies. During their first year they do not put on as much weight as those fed on formula milk. Breast-fed babies are less likely to be fat later in life and to develop complications such as diabetes and heart disease."

Six years ago, Cole developed an alternative chart based on breast-fed babies but it has never been endorsed by the British medical establishment. The Child Growth Foundation, a UK charity, campaigns for the adoption of Cole's chart.

The foundation claims breast-fed babies are, on average, at 22lb at 12 months, about 1lb lighter than those fed solely on formula milk. It is thought that breast-fed babies grow more slowly in the first year because they control the rate at which they feed, rather than being tied to their parents' notion of meal times. …

Sarah-Kate Templeton, 'The Sunday Times'