Babies Eating Too Soon? It's about Breast Milk Really

What's for dinner? 

Apparently too much food according to a new study published in Pediatrics showing many babies are eating rather than simply drinking their dinners. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends parents introduce solids after 6 months a few years ago when 1,334 mothers participated in a national survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the recommended age was 4 months. The survey found 40 percent of mothers slipped their babies real food before 4 months and 92 percent before 6 months, the latter a clear violation of today's tougher standards. Uh oh. 

Cue the headlines.

A 'worrisome' risk: Most babies are fed solid food too soon, study finds,

Four in 10 Babies Given Solid Foods Too Early, Study Finds, USA Today

Survey: Parents Risk Babies' Health By Feeding Them Solid Food Too Early, NPR

Get the message? Bad mommies. Bad, bad mommies. 

Oh they had their reasons.  Common excuses for pushing food included: 

My baby seemed old enough

My baby seemed hungry  

I wanted my baby to sleep longer at night 

Gasp, how dare they! Hold on, it gets worse:

A doctor or health care professional said my baby should begin eating solid food

Uh oh. 

Kelley Scanlon, an epidemiologist at the CDCs who just happened to co-author the study was not happy about that last bit.  “It makes me want to know more about the other advice that those parents were getting on infant feeding,” Dr. Scanlon told the New York Times.  I could not agree more.

So why the unhappiness? More food means less boob.  The current study found only about 24 percent of mothers who breastfed gave food before 4 months compared to the 53 percent of formula feeders who did earlier than recommended.  This story is more about breastfeeding than the dangers of babies eating too much rice cereal with mashed banana. In fact, the push for more breast milk was the AAP's primary motivation behind raising the recommended age at first bite so to speak from 4 to 6 months last year. 

Sure, there is some rather tepid indirect evidence linking early solids to a number of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and eczema.  Too much of it runs along the lines of asking women to recall what they fed their infants then pretty much ignoring what their kids ate for a decade or more. It's not much evidence to make mothers hold off on cereal for two more months. Perhaps not enough for some pediatricians to strictly enforce 6 months.  

Certainly not enough evidence to make moms feel guilty.

However, there is growing evidence that delayed introduction to foods could put children at risk for some food allergies including eggs, nuts, fish and wheat.  Introducing wheat before 6 months in particular appears to lower risk of wheat allergies.  We'll be reading more about food allergies and timing of first exposure in the future.  Some foods appear to be protective when given early, others risky. Research may soon suggest optimal time frames for when children, babies included should be first exposed to a  number of certain foods as a means for reducing risk of food allergies.  Yet not a single article of the many I perused on this study referred to a single risk of delayed solids though they all reported several risks of early solids. 
Prevalence and Reasons for Introducing Infants Early to Solid Foods: Variations by Milk Feeding Type. Pediatrics, online March 25, 2013
doi: 10.1542/peds.2012-2265

Note: I still haven't figured out Blogger on the Mac. Have not conquered the font situation yet. If anyone can lend their expertise on this one, I welcome it.                                  


Awesome Mom said...

I am so glad I am past that whole minefield. When they can grab food out of my hands and shove if in their mouth they are ready for it even if it is earlier than six months. I started around five since I was getting four from some places and six from others so I split the difference.

Alice Callahan said...

My reading of the evidence a year or so ago is that there is reasonable evidence to support waiting until around 6 months for exclusively breastfed babies, but I can't understand why the AAP has applied that to formula-fed babies as well. But for all babies, I think we should really be pushing developmental readiness more than any magical date on the calendar. Baby should be able to sit up, open his mouth when he sees food coming, close it around the spoon, keep tongue flat to swallow, etc. And he should also be able to turn away if he doesn't want food. We started around 5 months, and I can see in hindsight that it was too early. Cee rejected almost everything I offered, and I was overly concerned about it, so something that should have been enjoyable was a source of stress for both of us. Again, it's about development and the feeding relationship more than it is about age, allergy risk, breastfeeding, etc. But I do agree with you that the data on allergy risk are really interesting, and I've been concerned for a while with the "food before one is just for fun" slogan coming from breastfeeding advocates. I once met a breastfeeding mom who hadn't started any solids with her 10-month-old yet, and she was convinced that she was doing the healthiest, most pure thing for her baby. She was also confused about why her baby wanted to nurse around-the-clock and why she couldn't find a "breastfeeding-friendly" pediatrician...