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Current guidelines recommend that infants are exclusively breast fed for the first 6 months of life, with particular solid foods being gradually introduced from 6 months. Our objective was to compare the growth of infants whose feeding most closely followed current guidelines with the growth of infants with other feeding practices. Participants were 1740 infants in a prospective cohort study in Southampton, UK. At 6 and 12 months, infants' milk feeding was recorded, diets assessed using food frequency questionnaires (FFQ), and anthropometry performed. Principal components analysis was used to identify patterns of foods in the diet using the food intakes assessed by the FFQs. Two patterns ('infant guidelines' and 'adult foods') explained most variance in infant diet at 6 and 12 months of age. The main outcomes were conditional growth in weight, length and skinfold thickness from 0-6 and 6-12 months. Infants who were breast fed from 0-6 months gained weight, length and adiposity more slowly than formula-fed infants, independent of age at introduction of solids and maternal factors: compared with infants who were breast fed from 0-6 months, formula-fed infants gained 0.21 standard deviation scores (SDS) in weight [95% confidence interval (CI) 0.00, 0.42]. Infants whose dietary pattern was most similar to current feeding guidelines, with high frequencies of fresh fruit and vegetables, home-prepared foods and breast milk, gained weight and skinfold thickness more rapidly from 6 to 12 months than other infants, independent of milk feeding, age at introduction of solids and maternal factors. Compared with infants in the lowest quarter, infants in the highest 'infant guidelines' score quarter gained 0.24 SDS [95% CI 0.06, 0.43] in weight and 0.26 SDS [95% CI 0.07, 0.45] in skinfold thickness. Conversely, infants whose diets had the highest frequencies of breads and processed foods gained weight less rapidly from 6 to 12 months than other infants. The extent to which the patterns of diet and growth we have described will influence the current or later health of infants is unknown. We are following up the infants in this study to assess the impact of these patterns beyond the first year of life. These associations should also be examined in other settings and populations.

Original publication




Journal article


Paediatr perinat epidemiol

Publication Date





575 - 586


Birth Weight, Body Height, Breast Feeding, Diet, Diet Records, England, Female, Fruit, Growth, Humans, Infant, Male, Prospective Studies, Skinfold Thickness, Vegetables, Weight Gain