Over half of American babies are being introduced to solid food too soon.
A new CDC study has found that over half of American babies are being introduced to solid food too soon.

There are few things cuter than watching your pudgy baby try a new food for the first time. As our culture is centered around food, it's easy to understand why introducing infants to the world of eating is such an exciting time. However, a new study finds that the majority of parents are not heeding expert opinions when it comes to switching from milk to food.

Health experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend that infants begin eating solid food at approximately six months of age. Further, the World Health Organization believes that exclusive breastfeeding for six months is the optimal way to feed infants.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wanted to find out if parents were adhering to the six-month guideline. As such, they examined data from the 2009 - 2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The results of their study were published this week in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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In all, researchers examined the food intake of close to 1,500 American children ages six to three years old. The data was collected via household interviews in which parents were asked what age the child was given food other than formula or breastmilk, including baby food, cow's milk, juice, and sugar water.

The study found that only one-third (32.5%) of babies were introduced to complementary foods at the recommended time of six months of age. In fact, 54.6 percent of babies were given food other than breastmilk or formula before six months of age. Approximately 15 percent of infants received alternative foods prior to four months of age, while 13 percent were not given solid foods until they were seven months or older.

Interestingly, the study also found that babies who were not breastfed or breastfed for less than four months were more likely to try new foods sooner.

"Introducing babies to complementary foods too early can cause them to miss out on important nutrients that come from breast milk and infant formula. Conversely, introducing them to complementary foods too late has been associated with micronutrient deficiencies, allergies, and poorer diets later in life," explained lead investigator Chloe M. Barrera.

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As breastmilk provides all of the nutrients, as well as the protective antibodies, that a baby needs during the first half-year of life, introducing solids too soon can result in reduced immunity and poor nutrition. Additionally, it takes approximately six months for the baby's gut to be physiologically ready to digest food.

The benefits of waiting until six months to introduce solid food extend beyond the baby. As the introduction of food tends to replace breastmilk in the infant diet, the supply and demand nature of breastfeeding typically results in reduced breastmilk production once the baby is eating food. Waiting until six months to try solids ensures the integrity of mom's milk supply. Slightly more superficial, waiting to introduce solids has been shown to help mom lose more of that pregnancy weight.