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You Might Be Feeding Your Baby Solid Foods Too Soon

Photograph by Twenty20

One thrilling moment for moms is when they introduce their baby to solid foods. It means that Mom can relax a little—without pumping, measuring or scrubbing empty bottles—so her little one can suck down nutrients.

The question is: When should you begin weaning your baby from breast milk or formula?

Current recommendations suggest that infants begin experimenting with complementary foods (including pureed baby food or even plain water) at around 6 months of age. But a new study encompassing a nationally representative group of U.S. infants says that a lot of parents are starting sooner than they should.

Findings published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics emphasize the need to introduce foods at the proper time to get the most benefit from breast milk or formula. Starting slowly, at the right age, not only allows babies to develop enough to swallow correctly, it also provides children with essential nutrients not found in solid foods.

In addition to being choking hazards, and having lower nutritional content and higher calories (which can cause obesity), solid foods, when given too early, can lead to health issues like eczema and may even be linked to chronic diseases, like diabetes and celiac disease, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Even so, many parents still refuse to listen.

To determine the current state of infant feeding practices in the US, researchers analyzed data from the 2009-2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and assessed the food intake of 1,482 children ages 6 months to 36 months.

Starting slowly, at the right age, not only allows babies to develop enough to swallow correctly, it also provides them with essential nutrients not found in solid foods.

Their report shows that only one-third (32.5 percent) of U.S. babies were introduced to complementary foods at the recommended age of 6 months. A smaller number (16.3 percent) started on solids when they were only 4 months old, another 38.3 percent began around 5 months, and 12.9 percent waited seven months or more.

Guidelines for introducing complementary foods to infants has changed dramatically over the past 60 years. It’s gone from 3 months to 6 months, for many reasons, and caused a lot of confusion for parents. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) hopes to change that by expanding their research to include the first federal dietary guidelines for children younger than 2 years old.

"Efforts to support caregivers, families and healthcare providers may be needed to ensure that U.S. children are achieving recommendations on the timing of food introduction," said Chloe Barrera and her co-investigators from the CDC. "Inclusion of children under two in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans may promote consistent messaging of when children should be introduced to complementary foods."

The new guidelines, to be released in 2020, probably won’t mean you’ll have to breastfeed until your child is in preschool, but it will say something important about nutrition.

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