NHMRC launches new ‘Infant Feeding Guidelines’

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 18th February 2013

Released for the first time as a stand-alone document, Australia’s new ‘Infant Feeding Guidelines’ were published today by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

Previously contained in the NHMRC’s “Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents in Australia” (2003), the latest 2013 Infant Feeding Guidelines constitute the foundation document for providing advice and recommendations on the nutritional care for infants, including breastfeeding, use and preparation of infant formula and the introduction of solid foods.

The 2013 Guidelines acknowledge and complement Food Standards Australia New Zealand’s regulation of foods for infants. Under Food Standard 2.9.1 regulating the composition and marketing of infant formula, an ‘infant’ is defined as a person under the age of 12 months.

A spokesperson for the NHMRC today explained that although the “key messages in the revised Guidelines are similar to the 2003 version…the revised Guidelines have been updated with recent scientific evidence about health outcomes”.

Breastfeeding remains ‘best’

A review and interpretation of the evidence and along the same lines as the World Health Organisation (WHO), the new Guidelines recommend infants be exclusively breastfed until solids are also introduced to the diet at around 6 months of age. Breastfeeding should be “continued until 12 months of age and beyond, for as long as the mother and child desire,” an NHMRC spokesperson noted today.

“Exclusive breastfeeding ensures that the infant receives the full nutrition and other advantages of breast milk, including developmental benefits and protection against infection and some chronic diseases,” the Guidelines say.

Furthermore the Guidelines support more social acceptance of breastfeeding, noting that “while mothers may encounter difficulties with initiating and establishing breastfeeding, usually these can be overcome with support and encouragement from health workers, family and community organisations.”

Formula feeding

Acknowledging that infant formula may be used as a substitute for breast milk, the Guidelines advise health care workers to “promote breastfeeding first but, if infant formula is needed, to educate and support parents about formula feeding”.  The Guidelines specifically warn that “infant formula requires accurate reconstitution and hygienic preparation to ensure its safety… [such that] it is important that health workers know how to demonstrate the preparation of infant formula and how to feed an infant with a bottle”.

The Guidelines refer to Standard 2.9.1 of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code which regulates the composition, availability and marketing of infant formula products.

The Guidelines remind health care workers and parents to use and prepare infant formula in a careful manner.

The publication of today’s Infant Feeding Guidelines follows the January 2013 clarification of Standard 2.9.1, prohibiting infant formula products from carrying nutrition content and health claims, and a current review of Standard 2.9.1 that is expected to publish its results later this year.

Solid foods

Introduction of solid foods is recommended to take place at roughly 6 months of age. Failing to do so “may increase the risk of developing allergic symptoms”. According to a NHMRC spokesperson, “as long as iron-rich foods are included in first foods, foods can be introduced in any order and at a rate that suits the infant”.