Recommendation Of Six Months Or Older
Years ago when my 17-year-old son was a baby, the recommended guideline for introducing solid foods such as rice cereal or pureed fruits to infants was four to six months. As recently as last year, the recommendation changed to six months and older. Despite this, a recent survey from the Centers for Disease Control has discovered that many parents aren’t heeding this advice.
Professionals recommend that babies be fed breast milk or formula exclusively until they are around six months old. Studies have found that babies fare better when solids are delayed until the six-month mark or after because health problems can and do erupt when they are given sooner. Babies fed solids too early can have an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, celiac disease and allergies. Other problems revolve around the immature gut -- babies younger than six months just can’t process and digest solid foods safely, which can lead to diarrhea and stomach pain.
The study, which was conducted by the CDC, surveyed 1334 mothers. They found that a whopping 40 percent fed their infants solid food before they were four months old. Nine percent reported that they started as early as four weeks of age.
The study authors noted that there were a variety of reasons given for the early start to solid foods. Many said that their baby seemed hungry, or they wanted him to sleep better or gain weight. Still others said that the recommendation came from physicians or other professionals -- a fact that alarmed the researchers.
“Clearly we need better dissemination of the recommendations on solid food introduction,” said one of the study’s authors, Kelley Scanlon, who is an epidemiologist with the CDC. “Health care providers need to provide clear and accurate guidance, and then provide support to help parents carry out those recommended practices.”
It can be tempting to start solids earlier, particularly if baby is partially or totally formula-fed. The authors noted economic factors were often at play in the decision, as many who started solids were of lower income, had less education and were more likely to participate in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children -- also known as WIC.
The bottom line
Babies not only do not need solid foods before six months, it can actually be detrimental to their health. Look for signs that your baby is ready, such as the ability to sit up, take food from a utensil and not turn away when food is offered. Also, keep in mind that just because your baby looks interested and tries to grab your food, it doesn’t mean she’s ready to eat. Waiting or delaying won’t hurt your baby, but starting too early might -- and remember, “Food before one is just for fun.”