Too-early solid food could lead to problems for babies
March 25th, 2013
02:36 PM ET

Too-early solid food could lead to problems for babies

At least 40% of moms are feeding their infants solid foods far too early, according a new study published in the medical journal Pediatrics, and that may lead to problems for their children later in life.

Researchers wanted to know how many babies were being fed solid foods (including cereal and baby food) sooner than recommended, whether breast-feeding or formula feeding made a difference and why solids were being introduced early. When the study began in 2005,  the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which also publishes the journal Pediatrics, recommended introducing solid foods when babies were between 4 and 6 months old.

In 2012, the AAP changed those recommendations. Now it says babies shouldn't be eating solid food until they are about 6 months old.

Study and findings

As part of the two-year study, 1,334 mothers filed out monthly questionnaires about what their babies ate during the last week, says Kelley Scanlon, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and one of the study authors. Scientists then analyzed the data reported by the mothers to determine at which age babies were being fed solid food.

They found 539 moms, or 40% of moms, gave their babies solid food early. Previous studies had put that estimate at 19% and 29%. Researchers believe based on this study, they may actually be underestimating how many moms introduce solids early because the study was more likely to have older, more educated and higher income moms participating. "Mothers of lower socioeconomic status are at a higher risk of early solid food introduction," the study says.

Giving your baby solid food too soon has been linked to a higher risk of obesity and diabetes, according to the study. Also, "starting infants on solids before 4 months can lead to allergies and eczema," says Dr. Jennifer Shu, an Atlanta pediatrician and AAP spokeswoman who was not involved in the research.

Among the 539 moms who did introduce solids early, nearly 1 in 10 gave their babies solids before they were 4 weeks old.

Researchers found formula-fed infants were about twice as likely to be introduced to solids early, compared to only breast-fed babies.

Moms were also given 12 reasons to choose from to explain why they introduced solid food early. Among the top answers:
- 90% of moms said they thought their baby was old enough to start eating solids.
- 71% said their baby seemed hungry a lot of the time.
- 55% believed their doctor or another health care professional said their baby should start eating solids.

Scanlon cautioned that this last point reflected a perception that health care professionals were recommending when to start an infant on solids; researchers couldn't actually confirm that's what a doctor or nurse actually said.

Shu says she was surprised by the findings, but notes that some doctors and nurses may have been trained at a time when babies were fed solids earlier and says it's hard to change behaviors when medical information changes so quickly.

Bottom line

"There's a lack of awareness of what the recommendations are," Scanlon says, adding babies are not developmentally ready for solid food before they are 4 months old.

Some of these moms are getting information on when to feed their babies solids "from generations (ex. grandparents, nurses, friends) who may have started their babies on solids at an earlier age," suggests Shu.

According to the latest AAP recommendations, moms are supposed to exclusively breast-feed their babies until they are about 6 months old if possible, so babies can reap all the benefits of mother's milk including extra immune protection and possible protection for future chronic illnesses like obesity and type II diabetes.

Every baby develops at a slightly different pace, but there are some signs to look for to help parents figure out if their child is ready for solids:
- Is the baby sitting up? Can she hold her head up?
- Does your baby open his mouth when food comes his way?
- Is she big enough? (Babies typically double their birth weight by 4 months)
- Can he take food off the spoon and actually swallow it?

The takeaway

Parents need clear and accurate guidance on when to introduce solid food to their babies, and pediatricians and health care professionals need to support them, says Scanlon, by explaining to the parents that crying doesn't always mean the baby is hungry - it could also be wet, sick or lonely.

soundoff (100 Responses)
  1. Stevie

    I am a midwife in Australia. We follow the World Health Organisation (WHO) which recommend that babies have breast milk ONLY (no water/ juice etc) for six months. Mum produces EVERYTHING a baby needs in her milk, which changes with babies' growth, the seasons, whether it's a hot day or a cold day, it is always perfect for her baby. WHO recommend commencing solids at 6 months because that is when a baby's extrusion reflex stops being so strong and their digestive system has developed sufficiently to handle various food types. You can also check out the recommendations of the La Leche League and the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

    January 13, 2015 at 05:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Kasandra

    I mashed up food and gave it to my son when he was only a month old and he is now 5 and not over weight or have diabetes the only thing I didn't feed him was meats the only problem I have with him now is he would rather eat fruits and vegetables then meats wish is not a bad thing I think feeding him those sooner helped with not having to fight with him to eat healthy

    January 17, 2015 at 17:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Sarah

    It can be hard for the mother to tell if the breast milk is enough for baby as it thins out over time. My daughter has gone through a few periods of difficulty because she was hungry. Once I got more food into her, everything calmed down. My milk ran out at 12 months and the poor thing really struggled because didn't like formula. I also thought the baby rice was just to get them used to eating. You can mix it with fruit and veg as a thickener and get multigrain cereals instead. You're meant to give them a wide range of foods to gradually replace milk, I'm sure no one just gives them bowls of baby rice all day! Anyway, talk to certain soft drink companies about pushing their products in developing countries if you're worried about obesity....

    January 17, 2015 at 23:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. natalia

    i formula fed my child, and i went by the book never fed her any solids until two weeks before she turned 6 months. i didnt give her juice until she turned almost a year old. she now eats EVERYTHING and is healthy as a horse. Just because there are a few good stories and some people didnt notice anything wrong with their child from feeding them solids too early doesnt mean it always is. As this study clearly says they've seen higher rates in obesity, eczema and diabeties.

    January 18, 2015 at 07:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Valerie

    I'm 60 and when my children were infants they were formula fed. The doctor advised me to start them on cereal at 2 weeks, fruit at 4 weeks, veggies at 6 weeks and meats at 8 weeks. None of my children or grandchildren are overweight, have diabetes or any other of the associated calamities.

    January 18, 2015 at 09:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Joana

    I have a doubt...
    about the moms that have no more breast-feed, watch should they do about their 3 month baby feeding?
    Thank you

    January 18, 2015 at 17:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Leeah

    I have three children, my first daughter was a big 11lb baby she was so colicyand cried constantly. I had a 16mth old son when she was born and started him on pablum at 4 mths. Since she was so colicy my dr suggested i start her on pablum at 2mths. And almost instantly her colic went away! She was just hungry and my breast milk was not enough to fill her tummy. Neither of my children have health problems. And now my third child ( a girl) is 3mths and im thinking about starting her on pablum soon. I still breast fed all my children till they were 9 mths then switched them to a cup and warm whole milk. My children ( now9&8) are super healthy

    January 18, 2015 at 20:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. donna

    I feel products on the market are also to blame for the confusing message it's ok to wean at 4 month as it says so on the Label .. start to remove or chanchange to 6 months a small different may be made .

    January 22, 2015 at 08:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Carole Sullivan

    I want to know the number of obese kids of both groups and the number of diabetic's. What was the number for the other 60%? Just because you it doesn't make it true. What proof do they have of a direct connection?

    February 19, 2015 at 10:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Carole Sullivan

    I want to know the number of obese kids of both groups and the number of diabetic's. What was the number for the other 60%? Just because you say it doesn't make it true. What proof do they have of a direct connection?

    February 19, 2015 at 10:51 | Report abuse | Reply
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