Last updated on 10 March 2011
Introduction of gluten into an infant’s diet
The Agency is reminding parents of Government advice to exclusively feed babies breast milk for around six months and not to introduce solid food until after this time. This is following an in-depth review by experts who looked at the best time to introduce gluten, a protein found in cereals such as wheat, rye and barley, into infants’ diets.
The Committee on Toxicity (COT) and Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) examined the available evidence to see whether the time that gluten is introduced into an infant diet affects the chance of them developing coeliac disease and type 1 diabetes. This was following the scientific opinion given by the European Food Safety Authority, which reported that the introduction of gluten into an infant’s diet by six months of age while still breastfeeding, might reduce the risk of developing coeliac disease (an intolerance to gluten) and diabetes.
After looking at all the evidence in detail, the COT and SACN concluded that:
- introducing gluten-containing foods before three months (13 weeks) might be linked to an increased risk of coeliac disease
- the evidence currently available is not strong enough to make specific recommendations about when gluten should be introduced into infants’ diets beyond three months of age
- the evidence is not strong enough to support a recommendation to introduce gluten before six months of age
- there might be an increased chance of infants developing coeliac disease if they are not being breastfed when gluten is introduced into the diet
These findings do not change current Government advice, but will be used to inform a wider SACN review of existing recommendations on infant and young child feeding, which will include the appropriate age for the introduction of solids. This review has recently begun. The Government will consider its general infant feeding advice when this review is complete.
Government advice on introducing solids
The Government advises that all mothers exclusively feed their babies breast milk for around the first six months of life. Solid foods should be introduced when an infant is around six months old, alongside continued breastfeeding. It is important that foods that contain gluten and others that commonly cause allergies are introduced one at a time so you can spot if the child has a reaction.
If, after speaking to a health professional, parents choose to introduce solid foods before six months, they should avoid foods that commonly cause food allergies. This includes gluten-containing foods.
More advice on infants’ feeding is available from health professionals and the NHS Choices website at the link below.