Health experts currently recommend that infants be introduced to solid foods starting when they’re about 6 months old. However, a new study finds that more than half of U.S. parents begin feeding their child solid foods before that age.
Researchers say introducing solid foods or new drinks too early can cause babies to miss out on important nutrients that come from breast milk and infant formula. Waiting too long to introduce solid foods can also have a negative impact on a child’s health.
For the study, researchers analyzed the food intake of almost 1,500 babies between 6 months and 3 years old. Data was taken from the 2009-2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
Parents were asked to report when they gave their baby anything other than breast milk or formula. The analysis showed that babies who were bottle-fed exclusively or breast-fed for less than 4 months were most likely to be introduced to foods too early.
Nearly one-third of infants in the U.S. are introduced to solid foods at around 6 months, the age currently recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
But more than half of babies have their first taste of solid foods too early. The study found that 16 percent of babies were given complementary foods before the age of 4 months; about 38 percent were introduced to solid foods or other drinks by 5 months of age.
Impact of waiting too long
A small percentage of babies (13 percent) didn’t start solid foods until they were 7 months or older. Lead investigator Chloe Barrera says waiting too long is also a mistake.
“Introducing babies to complementary foods too late has been associated with micronutrient deficiencies, allergies, and poorer diets later in life,” she told ConsumerAffairs.
Parents should aim to introduce solid foods at around 6 months old in order to allow children to benefit the most from breast milk or formula.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that for most infants, you do not need to give foods in a certain order.
“Iron-fortified infant cereals, meats, vegetables, and fruits are all good choices for infant’s first food,” Barrera said.
The full study has been published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.