Why Can't Moms Agree on When to Start Solid Foods?
From your mom, to your neighbor, to that friendly woman in yoga class, everyone seems to have an opinion on when to start your baby on solid foods. So, how do you know who's right?
Bombarded with conflicting information about the best time to start your baby on solid foods? Despite expert recommendations to first offer foods like cereals and pureed vegetables starting sometime between four and six months of age, many moms still aren’t following this advice, according to a new survey of over 1,300 mothers conducted by the Centers for Disease Control.
In fact, almost half—40 percent—of moms surveyed said they gave their babies solid foods before they were four months old. Within this group, nine percent started solids as early as four weeks. The other 60 percent of moms started babies on foods after four months.
When asked why they started solids when they did, moms who began before four months tended to give reasons such as, “my baby is old enough,” “my baby seemed hungry,” “I wanted my baby to sleep longer at night” or even “a doctor or health care professional said my baby should begin eating solid food.”
Sound familiar? “I got a lot of pressure from my mom to start adding some rice cereal to my baby’s bottle as a way to get her to sleep better through the night,” says Patty Degeist, a new mom from Colorado Springs, Colorado, who had originally planned to wait until four months.
Eventually, Degeist gave in. “At about three months, I tried it and her sleep improved, but now that I’ve read more about introducing foods and food allergies, I wish I had just followed my instincts.” At age two, Degeist’s daughter was diagnosed with a peanut allergy.
It’s actually because of issues like food allergies that the pediatrics community has become so concerned about this issue. Ample evidence suggests that introducing solids too early can increase risk for food allergies. Feeding solids early can also be disruptive to breastfeeding— and even make it more likely for babies to develop other health issues, including childhood obesity. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, for optimal health and growth, babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life with solid foods only introduced at that time.
Besides the number of months passing on the calendar, what else can tell you that your baby is ready for solids? According to the AAP, your answers to the following questions could provide telltale clues:
- Can he hold his head up? Your baby should be able to sit in a high chair, feeding seat, or infant seat with good head control, according to the AAP.
- Does he open his mouth when food comes his way? Babies may be ready if they watch you eating, reach for your food, and seem eager to be fed.
- Can he move food from a spoon into his throat? If you offer a spoon of rice cereal and he pushes it out of his mouth, he may not have the ability to move it to the back of his mouth to swallow it. It’s normal. Remember, he’s never had anything thicker than breast milk or formula before, and this may take some getting used to. Try diluting it the first few times, then gradually thicken the texture. You may also want to wait a week or two and try again.
- Is he big enough? Generally, when infants double their birth weight (typically at about 4 months) and weigh about 13 pounds or more, they may be ready for solid foods.
Of course, checking in with your doctor about infant feeding and solid foods can also help in determining what’s best for your baby. And as for why so much confusion exists among moms concerning the issue of solid foods, pediatric researchers issued an apology.
“Clearly we need better recommendations on solid food introduction,” Kelley Scanlon, an epidemiologist with the CDC and an author of the study, tells the New York Times. “Health care providers need to provide clear and accurate guidance, and then provide support to help parents carry out those recommended practices.”
Mom Patty Degeist agrees. “I got a ton of information about breastfeeding, but not much on solid foods. New moms should be given more specific information about this.”
And what should this information contain?
“Tell moms what foods are best to start and when, but also give them tips about what to say to friends and relatives who just can’t believe it’s best to wait,” she adds.
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