msnbc.com
updated 1/14/2011 6:21:59 AM ET 2011-01-14T11:21:59

Feeding solid food earlier and not relying solely on breastfeeding for the first six months might benefit babies, a team of researchers say in a new study.

Waiting to wean a baby could increase the occurrence of food allergies and iron deficiency, the BBC reported, citing the study in the British Medical Journal.

The researchers said weaning could begin as early as four months, instead of the current recommendation of six months adopted by many countries, the BBC report said.

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The World Health Organization issued the six months guideline nearly a decade ago, and the research team said this recommendation should stand for mothers in developing nations, as access to clean water and appropriate baby food can be limited.

"When you look at the figures, there are a lot of babies being weaned before six months anyway - and that's probably the most important thing in terms of hard evidence," lead researcher Dr. Mary Fewtrell, of the University of London Institute of Child Health, was quoted as saying by the BBC.

The study also noted that keeping to the six months recommendation could "reduce the window for introducing new tastes," Sky News reported.

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"Bitter tastes, in particular, may be important in the later acceptance of green leafy vegetables, which may potentially affect later food preferences with influence on health outcomes such as obesity," the report said, quoting the study.

However, Gillian Smith, of the U.K.'s Royal College of Midwives, told Sky News that digestion problems could occur as a result of early feeding.

"There is a real danger of early feeding and the baby's gut not being mature enough to be able to digest that," she told the broadcaster.

Janet Fyle, also of Britain's Royal College of Midwives, told the BBC that she believed the study's recommendation was "a retrograde step," saying it "plays into the hands of the baby-food industry."

"There is evidence that some babies do die in developed countries from inappropriate young child feeding, such as the introduction of solid foods earlier before their swallowing mechanism is mature enough or they have fully developed the capability to cope with solid foods," she added.

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