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anses

French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

ANSES emphasises the risks linked to feeding infants beverages other than breast milk and breast milk substitutes

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News of 14/03/2013

Following reports of several cases of serious disorders in very young children who were partially or fully fed drinks other than breast milk or breast milk substitutes, ANSES issued a formal internal request to assess the risks of these products in infant nutrition from birth to one year of age. The expert assessment conducted by the Agency shows that these commonly-consumed beverages do not fully cover the specific nutritional requirements of infants. ANSES therefore considers that these products should not be used, either exclusively or partially, by children under one year of age. It also emphasises that breast milk is the ideal food for infants, that it is best suited to their nutritional needs, and that as a replacement for breastfeeding only infant formulas and follow-on formulas (animal or plant protein-based) can fulfil the nutritional requirements of children under one. 

Certain beverages marketed as milks (plant-based drinks made with soya, almonds, rice, etc.) have recently become very popular on the French market. For a variety of reasons, including allergies, intolerance or simply due to personal food preferences, certain consumers turn to these non-dairy products or to other dairy milks (goat’s or sheep’s milk, etc.). 

Recently, several cases of serious disorders in very young children who were fed these types of products have been reported to ANSES, and the Agency has therefore issued an internal request to assess the risks of feeding infants from birth to one year of age liquids other that breast milk or its substitutes. The results of this study were published today. 

The first year of life is the period in which growth is the fastest. Infants are therefore especially dependent on adequate nourishment to cover their nutritional requirements and to ensure proper growth and development. Popular drinks such as plant-based “milk” beverages and dairy milks other than cow’s milk are not formulated to meet the needs of children under one year old. The analysis conducted by ANSES shows that although these products are not intrinsically dangerous, they do not fully cover the nutritional requirements of infants.  

The disorders which occur in infants fed these beverages are exacerbated in cases of exclusive use or in use over prolonged periods. These practices can in fact cause malnutrition in the space of just a few weeks as well as severe metabolic disorders that may lead to infectious complications or even death.  Due to infants' sensitivity to all deficiencies, even short-lived ones, ANSES considers that these products should not be given to infants under one year of age. 

The Agency emphasises that breast milk is the ideal food for infants, best suited to their nutritional needs, and that as a replacement for breastfeeding only infant formulas and follow-on formulas (first stage, second stage) based on animal or plant proteins can fulfil the nutritional requirements of children under one.

The Agency also mentions the importance of a well-balanced diet for mothers during pregnancy and breastfeeding since some vitamin and mineral deficiencies may have an effect on infants. Certain types of diets that may cause deficiencies should be followed with precaution and should be carefully monitored. Women who follow a vegan diet (no products of animal origin) should be especially careful, and they should receive vitamin B12 supplements during pregnancy and breastfeeding.