Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
A recent study has shown (based on animal models) that babies who are started too early on foods high in carbohydrates will likely have a lifelong struggle with excess weight gain and obesity. New research to be published in the April issue of Pediatrics and released online today has found that forty percent of mothers start feeding their babies solid foods much too early, with many claiming they were given the go-ahead by their healthcare providers.
The researchers found that mothers who used baby formula (54 percent) were more than twice as likely as those who exclusively breastfed (28 percent) to start solid foods before their babies turned 4 months old. While many moms claimed their providers said it was fine to feed their babies earlier, other popular reasons for the switch to solids were that moms believed their babies were ready or that it would help them sleep better and longer at night.
Study coauthor Kelley Scanlon, and epidemiologist with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said an early switch to solids is associated with numerous health problems, so it is important to understand the motivation these mothers have.
These findings “don’t offer a full understanding why, but they give us some insight,” she said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that head and neck control and other coordination skills infants need to safely eat solid foods does not develop until around 4 months of age. The group also notes that introducing solids too soon ends the exclusive benefits of breastfeeding, which it recommends be continued until 6 months of age as it offers many health benefits including reduced risk of respiratory and ear infections, diarrhea and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
The study team noted that the introduction of solids too early may also increase the risk of chronic disease, such as diabetes, obesity and celiac disease.
Some healthcare providers recommend that a small amount of cereal be added to formula to help babies with reflux, said Lana Gagin, a pediatrician at the Helen DeVos Children´s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who was not involved in the study. She warned, however, that “there is no good, solid evidence that it helps a baby sleep.”
For the study, researchers analyzed a monthly record of information collected from 1,334 mothers on when and why they introduced solid food to their babies.
“We didn’t expect to see so many (give solids) before 4 months,” said Scanlon. While similar studies in the past asked mothers to recall when and why they offered solids two to three years down the road, the new study asked mothers to recall what was fed within the past week.
Among the findings in the study, the researchers discovered that mothers who introduced solids before 4 months are more likely to be younger, single, have less education or are in the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.
They also found that 8 percent of mothers introduced solid food as early as 1 month or earlier.
Furthermore, a whopping 89 percent of mothers said they introduced solids early because they believed the baby was old enough to begin eating them; 71 percent said the baby seemed hungrier than usual; 67 percent said the baby showed interest in solid food; 56 percent said the healthcare provider recommended solids; and 8 percent said the baby had a medical condition that may have been helped by eating solids.
As for getting advice from a medical provider to start solids, the researchers said: “We don’t know actually what advice the health care provider gave. But at least this was the perception the parents got – that this was the time to begin solids.”
These findings highlight the importance that pediatricians and other medical providers need to give clear, accurate and supportive advice to parents, said Gagin.
“We sometimes wait until (parents) come in for the 4-month well visit to discuss complementary foods, when introducing the subject during the 2-month check might be better,” Gagin told USA Today´s Michelle Healy. “We may not spend enough time explaining why they should wait and explaining that every time a baby cries doesn’t mean they’re hungry.”