Current recommendations say that parents should hold off on giving their babies foods other than breast milk or formula until they are about six months old.
However, a recent study shows that many American babies are fed complimentary foods much too soon.
The study looked at 1,482 children between the ages of 6-36 months and found that 16.3 percent were given complimentary foods before they were even four months old, while 38.3 percent were given solids between 4-6 months of age.
Researchers said infants who were never breast-fed or who were breast-fed for less than four months were most likely to be introduced to solid foods too early.
Richard So, M.D., a pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children’s, did not take part in the study, but said the most important thing that parents need to keep in mind when making the decision to try solids is whether their child is developmentally ready to eat textured foods.
“Starting a baby on solid foods has to do with development,” he said. “Can your baby hold their head up straight? Can they sit up straight for a long time? These things are important because they have a lot to do with preventing choking on solid foods.”
Dr. So said parents need to have a conversation with their child’s pediatrician about when is the right time to introduce solid foods before trying it on their own.
Also, when the time is right to introduce these foods, he said parents need to make sure the baby is still getting enough milk. Complimentary foods should supplement, not replace, breast milk or formula.
Dr. So said introducing solid foods has more to do with a baby learning to eat foods with texture than it does nutrition.
“When you add complementary solid foods, you’re not really giving a lot of nutrition,” he said. “You’re basically giving a lot of taste and texture and if you replace the carbohydrates, fats and proteins that milk provides with peas, carrots and sweet potatoes, your baby could actually lose weight.”
Dr. So said there are other concerns to feeding solid foods to babies who are not developmentally ready for them.
“A lot of parents have heard the ‘urban legend’ that if they start their baby on solids that the baby will sleep better at night,” he said. “I know you’re tired, and your baby’s tired, but if you give foods too early, there’s a big risk for choking, aspiration, and inappropriate weight gain.”
Dr. So said when the time is right to introduce pureed baby food, it’s a good idea to start with vegetables before fruits. He said often times a baby will develop a taste for the sweet fruits first and might not want to eat the vegetables later.
Complete results of the study can be found in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Source : Cleveland Clinic