Forty percent said they gave their baby solid food before they were 4 months old, with 9 percent starting as early as 4 weeks, according to the survey. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises babies should be fed nothing but breast milk for six months, or formula if breast milk is not an option.
Moms gave surveyors a number of reasons for starting before 4 months, including: “my baby is old enough,” “my baby seemed hungry,” “I wanted my baby to sleep longer at night” and — most alarming to researchers — “a doctor or health care professional said my baby should begin eating solid food.”
So what’s the reason for the wait?
“The gut isn’t ready to process those foods,” said Dr. Greg Sonnen, a Texas Health Physicians Group pediatrician at Pediatric & Adolescent Specialists of Rockwall. “Exposing babies early can set up an abnormal food response, leading to peanut allergy and other conditions. More recent studies have looked at the relationship between obesity and feeding solid foods to babies younger than six months. A specific study from Boston Children’s showed babies’ odds of becoming obese increase six fold increase by age 3. That is huge.”
Dr. Michelle Tucker, a Texas Health Physicians Group pediatrician at Castle Hill Pediatrics in Carrolton, has also seen food allergies associated with starting solids early – in addition to eczema, asthma, and celiac disease.
“Parents are very excited to try new things,” she said. “Enthusiastic young parents see systems where you can make your own baby food, where you can go a real healthy route. It’s not that they’re trying to hurt their baby, they’re trying to make a smart baby.
“It’s just really about slowing down a little bit, and doing what the baby can do,” she said.
Dr. Sonnen thinks the pendulum is swinging more toward the AAP recommendations -- nowadays, he says, probably 80 percent of the families he sees are waiting to feed solids foods until their babies are six months old.
His advice to families: “After four months, start with a plan for limited foods,” he said. “It’s a threshold, and I open the door. When they want to cross the threshold, that’s up to them.”
When did you start your baby on solid foods?