• You Put Your Baby's Health at Risk When You Feed Him Solid Food Too Early

    Pop quiz: when can you start introducing food other than breast milk and formula to your baby?
    by Jillianne E. Castillo .
  • You Put Your Baby's Health at Risk When You Feed Him Solid Food Too Early
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  • Babies should be given complementary foods (a.k.a. food other than breast milk or formula) at 6 months of age, as per guidelines from the World Health Organization. However, a new study shows that more than half of babies in the U.S. are introduced to food too soon. 

    “Introducing babies to complementary foods too early can cause them to miss out on important nutrients that come from breast milk and infant formula,” said lead author Chloe M. Barrera of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a news release.  

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    Published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the study also found that some babies were also introduced to food later than the recommended age at 7 months or older. “Conversely, introducing them to complementary foods too late has been associated with micronutrient deficiencies, allergies, and poorer diets later in life,” said Barrera. 

    The study involved gathering and assessing survey data on the food intake of 1,482 babies ages 6 to 36 months. Parents were asked to report on how old their infants were when they were first fed anything other than breast milk or formula. This included juice, cow's milk, and baby food

    Results found that only 32.5% of babies in the U.S. were introduced to complementary foods at the recommended 6 months old. 

    More than half of the babies were fed food too early — 16.3% were given food before 4 months old and 38.3% at 4 to 5 months old. On the other hand, 12.9% of the babies were given food too late at age 7 months or older.

    The findings emphasize the need for greater effort to support parents and caregivers to ensure guidelines are being followed when it comes timely introduction of complementary food to babies, said Barrera. 

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    Though conducted in the U.S., there is a takeaway to be gained for all parents: know when your baby is ready for solids. 

    “The nutrient needs of full-term, normal birth weight infants typically can be met by human milk alone for the first 6 months if the mother is well nourished,” explained WHO in its most recent complementary feeding guide for breastfed babies. “After six months of age, however, it becomes increasingly difficult for breastfed infants to meet their nutrient needs from human milk alone”

    Most babies are also developmentally ready for other food at 6 months old, added WHO. How can you tell if your baby is ready for solids? From the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guide book, Nutrition: What Every Parent Needs to Know, look for these signs:

    • Must be able to hold his head up. Your baby should be in a sitting position when you feed him and he should already have good head control
    • Opens his mouth when food comes his way. You may notice that your child also watches you eat, reaches for your food or looks eager to be fed. 
    • Must be able to swallow. It's normal for babies to push food out his mouth during your first try of feeding him, says the AAP. “Try diluting it the first few times; then, gradually thicken the texture. You may also want to wait a week or two and try again.”
    • Is big enough to start solids. According to AAP, generally, infants are ready to start solids when they've doubled in birth weight or weigh around 13 pounds or more. Some babies start eating solids as early at 4 months old.
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