Baby growth charts based on the bottle-fed could be misleading, an Australian expert has warned.
Breastfed babies could be misdiagnosed as "failing to thrive" because their normal weight gain does not comply with commonly used growth charts which are based on bottle-fed babies' growth patterns, points out Queensland University of Technology public health researcher Jan Payne.
In the process, mothers of breastfed babies so diagnosed might be discouraged from breastfeeding or encouraged to supplement their baby's diet with artificial formula.
"But then it is unnecessary for breastfed babies to be given artificial formula in many cases because there is a distinct difference in weight gain in the first 24 months between breastfed and bottle-fed babies," Ms Payne said.
"Babies who are fully breastfed and growing normally can be mistaken as not thriving if their weight over time is compared to current growth charts. This is because their weight for age tends to fall below that for artificial formula-fed infants after about six months of age."
Ms Payne said a new WHO (World Health Organisation) chart, based on the growth rate of breastfed infants, depicted the biological pattern of growth of human infants in ideal conditions and should be used as a reference for growth of both breast and bottle-fed babies.
"We have to consider whether there is something wrong with the amount or content of formula recommended for infants if they are putting on weight faster than the norm," she said.
"Another concern is that overfeeding babies who are growing normally could predispose them to developing overweight and obesity."
Ms Payne said growth reference charts from the US and UK gave an inaccurate guide to normal weight gain for breastfed infants because they were based on a mixed population of breast and artificially fed babies.
"It is hoped that Australia will universally adopt the new WHO global Child Growth Standards," she said.
"Queensland is waiting for a national decision on which charts to use but at the moment uses the CDC2000 charts developed in the US.
"The WHO Child Growth Standards are based on a longitudinal international study of the growth of infants in good health who were exclusively or predominantly breastfed for at least four months.
"It is based on scientific evidence that infants from anywhere in the world have similar growth patterns when their health and nutrition needs are met.
"It should be remembered that growth charts are guides only and should be used as part of a holistic approach to infant growth assessment and management."