Study Babies are Introduced to Solid Foods too Early

It always used to be said that “mother knows best”, but a recent study has suggested that at least 40% of American moms are feeding solid foods to their babies much sooner than they should. According to research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), four in ten new mothers are switching their infants from breast milk or formula before their four month birthday, raising the risk of childhood obesity and other chronic health problems.

The study team analysed data collected from 1,334 new moms between 2005 and 2007. They found that just over 40% of surveyed parents reported that their babies were eating solids, such as cereals and purees, before the four month age recommendation then in place. Guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics have since been upgraded to a six-month waiting period.

The research indicates that mothers who began feeding their youngsters solid foods earlier than four months were more likely to be young, single, and have relatively less education. Remarkably, eight per cent of the mothers who were surveyed reported that solids had been fed to babies aged less than one month. The researchers also found that mothers who formula-fed their babies were about twice as likely to offer solid foods before the recommended age.

Kelly Scanlon, a researcher from the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, says that the results are shocking, and that they highlight the need for better access to information about when mothers should be giving their babies solid food. “Pediatricians and other health care providers need to provide clear and accurate guidance”, she says. But ensuring that mothers get the right information might not be an easy matter. According to the researchers, new moms are turning to a variety of sources for feeding help, and the advice they are receiving may be inconsistent. Additionally, many health care providers report that they do not have sufficient training to make confident recommendations.

Of the women who reported early feeding of solid foods, 89% claimed that they believed that their baby was ready for them. The reasons given were interesting: 71% said that their baby seemed “hungrier than usual”; 67% said that the infant had shown an interest in solid food; and 56% said that they had followed the advice of health care providers. 8% also reported that a medical condition may have been helped by eating solids.

Although these results indicate that health care professionals are providing misleading information, Kelly Scanlon warns that they don’t confirm that this is what was actually recommended. Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician and AAP spokesperson, suggests that new moms may also be getting the wrong advice from older friends and relatives who started their own children on solid foods contrary to current medical data.

The reasons for the AAP’s guidelines are compelling. Studies have linked the early provision of solid foods to chronic childhood diseases such as eczema, respiratory infections, diabetes, and obesity. Although many mothers believe that solid foods will help their infant to ward off hunger or sleep better, the AAP warns that babies need to have adequate head and neck control and other developmental skills before they can safely digest solid foods. Furthermore, the transition to solids may eliminate the safeguards against infection which are offered by breast feeding.

Although the CDC report is based on information collected more than six years ago, the same dangers to infants may still be in place. New mothers are strongly advised to become well informed about their babies’ feeding requirements, and where necessary, seek a second opinion.