Experts recommend introducing solid foods into infants’ diets no earlier than 4 to 6 months of age, but many mothers do so earlier.
A study in the April 2013 issue of Pediatrics, “Prevalence and Reasons for Introducing Infants Early to Solid Foods: Variations by Milk Feeding Type,” (published online March 25) sheds light on some of the most common reasons for early introduction of solid food as well as differences among formula fed vs. breastfed infants.
The researchers analyzed the data from about 1,300 mothers who introduced solid food to their infants during the first year and reported the reasons for introducing solid food. Overall, 40.4 percent of mothers introduced solid foods before 4 months, with the highest percentage among the formula-fed infants (52.7 percent) and the lowest percentage among the breastfed infants (24.3 percent).
Common reasons for introducing solid food earlier than recommended included:
- “My baby was old enough”
- “My baby seemed hungry”
- “It would help my baby sleep longer at night”
Many of the mothers said their health care provider gave them the go-ahead. The authors noted that many factors influence mothers’ beliefs about infant feeding, including family and friends. Mothers who introduced solid food earlier than recommended were more likely to be younger, unmarried, have a lower level of education, or be participating in the WIC program.
Early introduction of solid foods is concerning because babies’ bodies are not yet prepared for these foods, and early introduction may increase the risk of some chronic diseases. It can also mean that the many benefits of breastfeeding are cut short.
The authors concluded that this information can help health professionals in working with mothers to improve adherence to infant feeding recommendations.
Note: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for approximately the first six months of life and continuation after complementary foods have been introduced for at least the first year of life and beyond, as long as mutually desired by mother and child.