When can babies eat solid food?

BabyFeedingAs if new parents didn’t have enough reasons to worry and feel guilty.  Now the CDC has chimed in with dire warnings about infant feeding.  A new survey claims babies are being fed solid food “too soon”.  The definition of “too soon”, devised by medical experts, is before the baby is 6 months old.  In other words, nothing should pass though the infant’s lips besides breast milk or formula until the magic 6 month birthday, at which point, at the stroke of midnight, the infant is suddenly ready to eat other foods.

The alarming data came from a survey of 1300 mothers who filled out one week food frequency questionnaires about what their babies were eating.  Breast fed babies were the least likely to eat solid foods, which formula fed infants were most likely.   The mothers who did feed solid foods early gave plenty of reasons, such as:

  • My baby was hungry
  • The baby wanted to eat the food I ate
  • It helps the baby sleep
  • My baby was old enough

What’s so bad about feeding solid food before 6 months?

  1. Infants are growing and developing rapidly during the first 6 months of life.  Clearly their diet should focus on breast milk or formula, which have the right balance of fats, proteins and nutrients.  Feeding other foods too soon can stifle the baby’s appetite for formula or breast milk.  Typical baby foods aren’t as packed with nutrition.  Rice cereal or pureed fruits or vegetables or juice are primarily carbohydrates.  Another recent study hints that a high carb diet in infancy could set babies up for later obesity.  Granted, this study was done on rats, so leaping to a conclusion about humans is iffy.  But it is another argument for holding off on high carb baby foods before 6 months.
  2. Another potential problem is the effect of that food on the infant’s gut bacteria.  Breast milk encourages growth of healthy bacteria, and other foods will disrupt that balance.
  3. Poor choices of solid food can train the baby’s taste buds to prefer highly  sweetened or salty flavors, if early solid foods include sugar-sweetened soft drinks, sweets like ice cream and pudding, sugary cereals or salty processed food like mac and cheese.

The problem for a lot of parents is that the 6 month rule can look arbitrary and rigid.  They don’t see any harm in giving the baby a little taste of soft adult food now and then.  And in fact, nothing magical happens exactly on the 6 month birthday to suddenly make the baby ready for other foods.  If you’re confused about when it’s OK to introduce solid foods, ask your pediatrician.  The easiest choice is this: as long as the baby is getting adequate formula or breast milk, there’s no reason to introduce other foods before 6 months.

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