A new study from the CDC released in today’s journal Pediatrics revealed that 40% of mothers surveyed gave solid food to their baby before the age of four months. While the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the American Academy of Family Physicians all recommend breastfeeding or formula feeding exclusively to the age of six months, many of the 1134 mothers involved in the study introduced cereal and fruit long before then, some as early as four weeks.
This early introduction of solid food occurred more than twice as often in women feeding with formula over breastfeeding women. The main reasons women gave for starting solids so early were “My baby was old enough,” “My baby seemed hungry a lot of the time,” “My baby wanted the food I ate,” “A doctor or other health professional said my baby should begin eating solid food,” or “It would help my baby sleep longer at night.”
This low adherence to infant feeding recommendations is of concern because, developmentally, younger infants are not prepared for solid food. Researchers have suggested that “early introduction of solids may increase the risk of some chronic diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, eczema, and celiac disease.” The health benefits of breastmilk (lower risk of ear and respiratory infections, diarrhea, diabetes, obesity, and sudden infant death syndrome) are significantly impacted when women cut back on breastfeeding as they introduce solids.
When beginning solid foods in your baby’s diet, it’s important to know that solid foods are meant to complement your baby’s overall nutrition, not replace breastmilk or formula. During this transition, your baby’s primary source of nutrition should still be breastmilk or, if he is bottle-fed, formula.
Speak with your baby’s health care provider before introducing solid foods into his diet. Remember these things when you do start:
• Although you’re starting your baby on solid foods, you don’t need to wean him from breastmilk right away. Some babies may no longer have an interest in breastfeeding after 1 year of age. But breastfeeding can continue beyond the first year of life if mother and child wish.
• Don’t feed your baby solid or pureed foods through his bottle. This takes away from your baby’s overall learning about how to hold and eat foods. It can also put him at risk for eating too much and becoming overweight. It’s best to use a teaspoon to feed your baby solid foods. Also, feeding baby with a spoon plays an important role in your baby’s language development.
• Do not give your baby cow’s milk until he is at least 1 year old. At age 1, cow’s milk can become a major source of essential nutrients for your baby. Babies should be given whole milk until age 2.
• Do not give food or sweets to your baby as a reward for good behavior. Instead reward him with praise, kisses, love and attention.
• Practice good oral hygiene for your baby right away. As soon as he has teeth, start cleaning them with a small wet washcloth.